BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor City Council’s infrastructure committee approved two proposals for recommendation to the full council, one for a $25,000 bridge repainting project costing the city nothing and the other costing the average Bangor resident $22 for stormwater abatement.
The latter proposal — the end result of several months’ worth of meetings, input and collaborative efforts by city staff members, officials, Bangor residents and businesspeople — involves a sliding stormwater utility fee system which will cost the average Bangor resident an extra $22 a year.
“I know $22 may not seem like much to a lot of people, but for people on a fixed income, it can be a lot,” said Bangor Councilor Ben Sprague, who cast the only dissenting vote in an 8-1 council vote May 31 to form a stormwater utility district.
Back then, Sprague voted no, citing the nonspecific and immeasurable nature of the EPA-mandated stormwater and waterway infrastructure improvements municipalities have to make, saying he wouldn’t “vote to allocate money to something so vague.”
Tuesday evening, Sprague voted with the majority as the committee agreed 5-0 to recommend the adoption of a new stormwater utility ordinance to the full council, which will vote on the matter on Oct. 22.
“Good things happen when people come together,” Sprague said. “This really is a long-term solution to an existing problem.”
While none of the councilors — Sprague, Pat Blanchette, Sue Hawes, Joe Baldacci and Charlie Longo (substituting for regular committee member Geoff Gratwick) — agreed with the EPA mandate, they all agreed a utility fee to pay for required stormwater infrastructure improvements like catch basin and storm line cleaning, drainage system repairs and construction projects is necessary and the best course of action.
“It’s a good solution to a problem that would have cost us millions of dollars down the road,” said Blanchette. “We’re doing this to save our environment and stay out of federal court.”
Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas presented the utility fee proposal to the committee.
“We all have a stake in this,” said Nicklas, who said the cost to remediate stormwater infrastructure could be much higher if not dealt with early and comprehensively. “We could have ended up in a situation similar to South Portland. I think their fee averages about $3,000 per acre of impervious cover and ours is more like $475.”
To that end, residents and businesses with 3,000 square feet of impervious surface (pavement, roofs, walkways) will pay an average of $22 per year. That fee increases by $11 for every additional 1,000 square feet of impervious surface.
There is also a credit, which will be available for residents and businesses who have at least 4,000 square feet of impervious surface. The credits will be given on a percentage basis, based on the amount of remediation done.
“We’ve done everything we can to keep the amount people pay low, so the credits may not total as much as they could if the original amounts were higher,” said Nicklas.
Several business owners and professionals, including Bangor Mall General Manager James Gerety and Bangor attorney Andrew Hamilton, spoke in favor of the utility fee plan.
“We’re looking at this as a fair and equitable approach for all businesses and individuals,” said Gerrity.
“We’ve got a good system that’s about to be launched,” Hamilton said. “It’s a system to fund required changes and a system of balance.”
City Engineer Art Morgan also updated the committee on the Maine Department of Transportation’s plan to paint the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge next year.
“The $25,000 project will be paid for with state and federal funds, and will also include the broadening of one corner of Main Street and Water Street as well as the replacement of concrete curbing,” said Morgan.
The end result will leave a more narrow sidewalk at the corner which once abutted the Bangor Masonic Lodge before it burned down in the winter of 2004. It will also smooth out the corner and widen the turning radius for traffic making a right hand turn onto Water Street.
Morgan said this project is connected to a more ambitious DOT plan to rebuild the bridge, starting in March.
The DOT’s plan, which involves shutting down one lane of the bridge and closing it to traffic going from Bangor to Brewer, drew considerable criticism from councilors when Morgan first presented it last August.
Since then, there have been no major compromises or alternatives found.
“I’m not sure there’s any other proposal that will work better or affect traffic less, so what I’m trying to do now is educate the public so they know what’s coming,” Morgan said.
“In March 2013, through October of 2013, they plan to close one half of the JC bridge,” Morgan explained. “Traffic would only be allowed to move from Brewer to Bangor during that closure time.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the last name of Bangor Mall General Manager James Gerety.