Freeport facing $270,000 state environmental permit for sports fields

Posted Nov. 28, 2012, at 6 p.m.

FREEPORT, Maine — An updated state environmental regulation has placed the town in a $270,000 quandary.

At issue is whether to spend the money to rework stormwater runoff at the Pownal Road athletic field — which would satisfy the Maine Department of Environmental Protection — or to shed the parcel by deeding it to the school department, or selling it outright.

Town councilors are not impressed with any of the options. However, consensus by the end of their regular meeting Tuesday was to not spend any money they didn’t have to.

Chairman Jim Hendricks suggested that Town Manager Peter Joseph and the town attorney ask the DEP to reconsider its ruling on the site.

The council also decided to solicit an estimate of the property’s real estate value, and to delay pitching the parcel to Regional School Unit 5, which would not be bound by DEP rules.

That no drainage or runoff problems currently exist at the field is what frustrated at-large Councilor Rich DeGrandpre.

“I’m not sure why we’re being asked to take a site that has no problems with it and dig a bunch of holes to move water around,” he said. “I guess it’s to see if maybe we can create any [problems].”

Voters in 2000 approved a $450,000 bond to buy the land and build ballfields on it. Nine years later, the town decided to give a 12-acre portion of the field to Topshambased Seacoast United Soccer Club, which intended to build an indoor arena and outdoor field through private funding.

According to the agreement, the soccer club would donate hundreds of hours of service and lease additional land from the town.

Two years later, after those plans fell through, the town re-acquired the land. That transaction is what triggered the state requirement to meet updated regulations.

At more than 20 total acres, it becomes “a codes issue,” said Alton Palmer of Graybased Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers Inc.

“The stormwater runoff law was materially changed in 2005, and now the fields have to meet a completely different standard,” Palmer said.

During the site review’s first phase, DEP officials ruled that the project needed a retention pond to handle runoff from the ballfields as well as the parking lot.

The most expensive problem is that the lot and pond are on opposite sides of the tract. What’s more, “once you cross the threshold of 20 acres of development or three acres of impervious [surface], you’re required to meet current standards,” he said.

The Pownal and Hunter roads parcels together, which the DEP interpreted as contiguous after Seacoast’s withdrawal, exceed the 20-acre trigger.

However, there are options within the letter of the law, and the solution may lie in the somewhat blurry difference between the state’s definitions of “renovation” and “redevelopment.”

The DEP’s definition of a developed surface includes athletic fields. Requirements for renovation are stricter, while the former has more gray area.

“A redevelopment project is required to meet current standards as much as is practicable,” Palmer said. “‘Practicable’ might be your best chance to get the DEP to work with you.”

The deadline for submitting a site location permit application is mid-January. Once the permit is issued, however, the town would have two years in which to start work.

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