Town enforces sewer rules

By Susan Mustapich | Aug 13, 2019
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Civil court actions are underway to enforce inspections of all properties connected to the town sewer system.

CAMDEN — The Select Board has authorized Wastewater Superintendent David Bolstridge and town attorney Bill Kelly to prosecute several property owners who have refused to allow inspections for possible infiltration of storm water into the sewer system for violations of the town's sewer use ordinance.

The purpose of the inspections is to ensure that sump pumps, basement drains and gutters are not channeling storm water into the sewer treatment system. During heavy storms and snow melt, storm water in the sewer lines can overflow wastewater treatment systems, and release sewage into Camden Harbor.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell said Aug. 13 that civil lawsuits are being prepared against three property owners. The fine for each day of violation of the town's sewer ordinance is set by state law, and ranges from $100 to $2,500. Since the Select Board authorized action against four property owners Aug. 6, one has come forward and set up an inspection, according to Caler-Bell.

While there are 22 property owners who have failed to schedule inspections, Kelly has advised that legal action begin with a small number of property owners, according to Caler-Bell.

"The town is sending a strong message that it intends to enforce its sewer ordinance," she said. "The first step is allowing the town to do the inspections."

She emphasized that the wastewater department and the town have made every effort to contact property owners to schedule the inspections, and the civil lawsuits are the last resort.

Bolstridge announced at a July Select Board meeting that the town of Camden will face legal sanctions from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection if sewage overflows into the harbor continue.

He explained that despite progress over the past six years, the sewer system still has overflows at Sea Street and at the Bay View pump station during big rain events or snow melt. These overflows are monitored by DEP, which wants a closure date, at which point Camden's wastewater system will no longer have overflow violations. DEP is preparing an agreement with the town, which will set milestones for the town to achieve by certain dates. The agreement then becomes a court order called a "consent decree."

At the Aug. 6 Select Board meeting, Bolstridge explained that the town's effort to inspect every residential and commercial property connected to the sewer system began in the summer of 2015.

Chairman Bob Falciani recapped the history of the town's efforts to schedule the inspections, even sending multiple written notices, including by registered mail. Newspaper advertisements, public meetings and numerous news articles have publicized the issue.

Federal funding for wastewater treatment plant approved

Camden has been approved for a $14 million grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Office for upgrades to its wastewater treatment plant, as well as a $12.5 million loan with a 2.5 percent interest rate for 30 years.

Falciani clarified that the town will pay for the plant upgrade with a bond anticipation note, with the federal grant and loan to be received when construction is completed. Caler-Bell said the town has issued a Request for Proposals for the financing in anticipation of the Rural Development money to every financial institution that has a branch in Camden, as well as others the town has done business with in the past.

In June 2018, voters authorized the Select Board to bond $13.9 million for the wastewater treatment plant upgrade. Much of the plant's equipment is 50 years old. Electrical and mechanical systems and components are obsolete, and parts required to fix them are no longer carried by manufacturers. The upgrade will increase efficiency, bring the plant into compliance with safety and code regulations and allow autonomous operation. The project includes upgrades to the Washington Street and Norumbega Drive pump stations and replacement of a sewer main on Sea Street. The tax impact of the  $13.9 million upgrade is estimated to be 54 cents per $1,000 of property valuation.

Comments (2)
Posted by: T A Schwab | Aug 14, 2019 12:10

Starting with a few people might move the other owners to allow the inspection.

Posted by: Dale E. Landrith Sr. | Aug 13, 2019 15:36

There is certainly nothing wrong with enforcing the wastewater ordinance.  However, the above sounds much like selective enforcement.  If you are going after offenders go after all of them.

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