BUCKSPORT, Maine — The town of Bucksport has agreed to build a new waste water treatment facility in an effort to resolve discharge violations.
For 27 years, Bucksport operated under a federal waiver which allowed its waste water treatment plant to operate under lower standards than most in the country.
The waiver was granted under a provision of the Clean Water Act that allowed small polluters that discharge into marine waters to adhere only to “primary treatment standards.” Most other polluters must adhere to “secondary” standards nearly three times as strict.
That waiver was renewed every five years until the last renewal cycle, when the Penobscot River was deemed too dirty to allow Bucksport to continue discharging into it at the lower standard. So in April, the DEP granted Bucksport a discharge permit without the waiver, despite the fact that the town’s waste water facility was incapable of the now-required secondary treatment.
As was expected, the town was found in violation of its new permit in April, May and June, releasing twice the monthly average amount of certain pollutants than are now allowed.
So Bucksport in October entered into an agreement with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to upgrade its facility, according to a monthly DEP enforcement report.
The agreement essentially allows the town to continue operating in violation of discharge standards as long as it follows an agreed-upon timetable for upgraded waste water treatment practices. As part of the agreement, no fines are being assessed on the discharge violations cited since April.
Bucksport Town Manager Michael Brennan said nothing has changed about how Bucksport treats its sewage, but new regulations and the changed condition of the Penobscot River — which could well be caused by discharge higher upstream, and not by Bucksport — left the town in a bind.
“The state realizes that these violations are technically occurring, but because we’re actively working to resolve the issue and because the violations occur as a result of changes in the EPA standards we’re not in control of, they’re working with us to resolve the issue,” he said Tuesday.
Peter Carney, director of procedures and enforcement at Maine DEP, agreed. He said the department had to give Bucksport some permit to operate under, even though it knew it would force the town into violations.
“There’s a general feeling that Bucksport was put in a difficult position,” he said. “What the consent agreement does is walk hand-in-hand with the license, providing a compliance schedule.”
Bucksport has 18 months to submit a preliminary design for an upgraded treatment facility, or a replacement. Brennan said the town is working with a design team to come in long before that deadline, and hopes to have an expanded, secondary treatment facility up and running long before the final 2018 deadline.
“We hope to have it as soon as possible,” he said.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.