ORONO, Maine — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the University of Maine to restore wetlands it disturbed during the preceding 15 years on the Orono campus.
The wetlands were filled between 1984 and 2009 during the construction of buildings, roads and parking areas, the installation of culverts, a landfill expansion and the disposal of snow and associated debris, the agency said in a news release issued Tuesday.
The EPA said that UMaine violated the federal Clean Water Act by failing to obtain the required federal permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before filling the wetlands. The wetlands had served valuable functions such as groundwater recharge, pollutant retention and wildlife habitat, according to the EPA.
Once the violations came to light, the university worked with the EPA and has agreed to the terms of the order, the agency said.
In lieu of financial penalties, the EPA issued an order requiring that UMaine remove about 2 acres of landfill and snow dump and restore the underlying wetland. The order also requires restoration of about an acre of forested wetland that had been converted to a livestock paddock.
To compensate for some fill that cannot be removed, the university is required to restore and enhance 3.66 acres of a currently farmed area that includes wetlands and an upland buffer.
On Tuesday, UMaine officials expressed appreciation for the EPA’s approach to helping the university address the wetlands issues.
“The EPA announcement today reflects a constructive and effective approach to mitigating these issues and to developing a model long-term plan for wetlands management on our campus,” said Elaine Clark, UMaine’s assistant vice president for facilities, real estate and planning.
“We have been working collaboratively with the EPA for months to create solutions that will address environmental concerns and create opportunities for our students to participate in helping manage these issues in ways that will enhance their classroom experiences,” she said.
Clark also praised the EPA for its willingness to engage in a collaborative process and its decision to forgo financial penalties, allowing the university to apply its financial resources to environmental improvements. She said UMaine has taken steps to create safeguards to ensure such mistakes are not repeated in the future.
UMaine spokesman Joe Carr said Tuesday that it isn’t yet clear how much the work will cost the university.
“We don’t have a cost estimate with regard to remediation because there are still some unknown variables,” he said.
He said the violations at issue were incurred:
• In the construction, demolition and debris disposal area and the adjacent snow dump area at Witten Farm, located in the northeast quadrant of the campus, near Hilltop.
• During the construction-expansion of Belgrade Road, Collins Center for the Arts and Jenness Hall parking lots.
• During building construction at Doris Twitchell Allen Village, the Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center and the aquaculture research building.
• At Lengyel Recreational Fields and at a road connecting Hilltop with Witter Farm.
According to the EPA, wetlands provide valuable habitat for many species of wildlife and help to protect the health and safety of people and their communities.
Wetlands filter and clean water by trapping sediments and removing pollutants and provide buffers against floods by storing floodwater, according to the EPA. They also store and slowly release water over time, helping to maintain water flow in streams, especially