BUCKSPORT, Maine — Residents here may end up paying at extra $225 per year in fees after the town completes a state-mandated upgrade to its sewage system, according to initial estimates.
The state Department of Environmental Protection in March 2012 revoked the town’s waiver on requirements for modern sewage treatment because the Penobscot River is in “non-attainment status” — in layman’s terms, that means the river is unhealthy. The state found high bacterial counts from stormwater bypasses, elevated levels of toxins in fish tissue and had to close shellfish harvesting areas downstream.
Though Bucksport’s sewage system may not be the root cause of those issues, state law dictates that a waiver cannot be issued if a municipality discharges into an estuary in non-attainment. In October, an agreement was reached between the town and the DEP, by which the town would upgrade its system by 2020.
So a new sewage plant it is. The town currently utilizes a primary waste treatment system in which raw sewage is screened and flowed into a clarifier. There, gravity allows sludge and some pollutants to settle to the bottom and the rest of the sewage flows into the river.
The problem is that many pollutants are non-settleable, meaning they end up in the Penobscot. The new system, designed by Olver Associates Inc. of Winterport, will introduce secondary screening and bacterial aeration, where microbes will eat away the non-settleable pollutants, leaving only clean water flowing into the river.
But the upgrade is expensive. The total cost, when all is said and done (sometime between 2016 and 2020), could cost $10.8 million. The town hopes much of the price tag will be funded by grants and loans, but even after the upgrade costs are paid, Bill Olver said the new plant will cost more to run each year than the plant in place today.
“I know this is a lot of money, but this is what these things cost,” he told councilors on Thursday.
The current budget for the sewage system is about $504,000 per year. After the upgrade, Olver said the town can expect to spend about $601,000 annually.
Because Verona Island and Orland also use Bucksport’s sewage system, the costs will be spread between the three towns. But Bucksport still pays the lion’s share — 91.2 percent.
Councilors on Thursday agreed to send the plan along to the Sewer Committee. Once the town agrees to a facilities plan, it will have to get Orland and Verona Island on board as well. From there, they can apply for funding from state and federal agencies.
If all goes according to plan and funding is secured easily, the new sewage treatment plan could be online as early as 2016.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.