BANGOR, Maine — Forty years after its passage, the Clean Water Act’s ripples continue to be felt and Bangor residents, businesses and agencies will feel them financially.
If approved by the full City Council, a utility fee plan charging most taxpayers $22 annually to fund stormwater/waterway work mandated by the 1972 Clean Water Act will be instituted in 2013.
“This is the minimum amount of work needed to be in compliance,” said City Manager Cathy Conlow, referring to a projected cost of $1,361,294 for required stormwater remediation in the first year of a five-year plan.
Seven of the nine councilors were present at a Monday afternoon workshop to hear a presentation by Brad Moore, Bangor wastewater treatment plant superintendent, and Paul Nicklas, assistant city solicitor. None of the seven were happy with what was characterized as an unfunded mandate, but agreed this is the best course of action to avoid penalties, fines and greater costs down the road.
“This program is called voluntary by the state, but I don’t buy it,” said Andrew Hamilton, a lawyer specializing in economic development at Bangor law firm Eaton Peabody. “It’s as close to mandatory as you can get.”
The presentation compared financial impact with a property tax approach versus a straight utility fee.
Under a property tax system, the average single-family home would pay $83 a year. A fast-food restaurant with 1 acre of impervious cover — or a surface that water can’t pass through or be absorbed into, such as a roof — would pay a $700 annual tax or a $475 utility fee. A large retail store with 10 impervious acres would pay a $5,000 tax and a $4,800 fee while a college or university with 15 acres would pay nothing in taxes and a $7,172 fee.
“We feel the fees are a much more equitable way of paying for the program than a tax,” said Moore. “I don’t perceive this as eventually rising to the point of a water bill.”
The plan’s utility fee structure is as follows:
• No charge for any residence or business with 500 square feet or less of impervious cover.
• A $22 annual charge for anyone with 501 to 3,000 square feet of impervious surface.
• After 3,000 square feet, an annual fee of $22 plus another $11 for each additional 1,000 square feet of impervious cover.
“We’ve calculated that based on this formula, 74 percent of single-family homes in Bangor would be charged $22 per year,” Moore explained.
The plan also provides for financial credits for businesses using accepted methods of stormwater reduction as well as an abatement program for those who qualify.
The utility program work includes such things as catch basin and storm line cleaning, drainage system repairs and alterations, and retrofit and construction projects in the Penjajawoc Marsh and Birch Stream.
Some of the costs will be paid by utility, grant and federal funds.
“We’ve gotten $3 million from the federal government that we’ll have to pay back half of,” said Nicklas. “We’ve put in systems underneath some parking lots that act as water filtration units and filters near streams to either cut down or clean the water that drains into them.”