ELLSWORTH, Maine — Completion this fall of Ellsworth’s new $20.7 million wastewater treatment plant will mean lots of changes to the city’s Union River waterfront.
Aside from nearly doubling the city’s wastewater capacity and eliminating the dumping of untreated waste after heavy rain or snowmelt, it will allow for the tearing down of the city’s current plant, located next to the Harbor Park and Marina on Water Street. Deconstructing the plant will rid downtown of what City Manager Michelle Beal called the “baleful odors” associated with the sludge-drying process.
Then, when the demolition is complete, planning will begin on expanding the park and marina onto the land previously occupied by the wastewater facility. Beal said improving the city’s waterfront is crucial to Ellsworth shaking off its image as a pass-through town.
“We’ve always been a service center, and we’re proud to be,” she said. “But we can also be a destination.”
The Harbor Park and Marina hosts a full-service dock, 63 moorings and 10 slips, adjacent to a grassy park with a gazebo, barbecue spots and picnic tables. The site is three miles boating distance from the head of Union River Bay and it’s a quick walk to the city’s downtown restaurants and boutiques. The waterway is frequented by bald eagles, osprey and harbor seals.
On Friday, Maureen Gastonguay and her family were picnicking at the park. It was high tide and boaters were launching their pleasure craft for noon cruises. The Connecticut family vacations in Bar Harbor and was spending the day exploring the Union River.
“It seems like there’s a lot to do here in Ellsworth,” she said. “This would be a perfect place [for expansion]. It could be a great community spot, much better than a sewage treatment plant.”
Though no firm plans are in place yet, the expansion of the park could be a boon for the city’s downtown, Beal said.
“This is our waterfront we’re talking about,” she said Friday at the park. “Not taking the opportunity to expand that just wouldn’t make sense. When you do things like this, it’s amazing how it draws people to the municipality.”
In 2006, the city signed a consent agreement to build a new plant after the Maine Department of Environmental Protection threatened to put a halt on new development in the city.
Storm water now enters the sewer system through leaks in sewer mains or via catch basins accidentally hooked to the sewer lines by private construction crews, according to Wastewater Superintendent Mike Harris.
That sudden influx often overwhelms the plant’s 850,000-gallon capacity, resulting in the discharge of untreated stormwater and sewage into Union River. The new plant has a capacity of 1.65 million gallons per day.
“The construction of this plant should eliminate the overflow,” Harris said.
The plant also will accept septage, private wastewater from portable toilets and residential septic tanks. Beal said the city could rake in up to $60,000 per year in septage treatment fees.
“That’s revenue we have not been able to capture before,” Harris said.
The city worked for about five years to put together a funding package for the new wastewater treatment plant. With help from the state DEP, Beal said, Ellsworth was able to cover about 40 percent of the project’s total cost with state and federal grants from six different agencies, including Community Development Block Grants and money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Harris said the new facility should be complete by the fall.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.