BUCKSPORT, Maine — A group of local, state and federal officials gathered Tuesday morning on the banks of the Penobscot River to announce the award of a $10.5 million loan and grant package from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help upgrade the town’s wastewater treatment facility.
The funding will help the facility better filter the sewage that comes into the plant and the fluids that are released into the Penobscot River.
The existing plant, built in 1988, has operated as a primary treatment facility, where solids are removed from the wastewater at the plant, but the waste receives limited chemical treatment before being released into the river.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has been aware that Bucksport did not meet the Clean Water Act standards, but it has allowed the facility to operate under waivers.
High bacterial counts from stormwater bypasses and elevated levels of toxins in fish downriver, however, prompted state and federal officials last year to push for modernization of the treatment facility. While much of the pollution may originate upriver, town and environmental officials reached an agreement in October to upgrade the Bucksport facility.
It will become a secondary treatment facility, where solid material will be removed and microbes added to the waste to consume the organic matter, before the treated fluids are released into the Penobscot.
The new plant will cover three times as much area as the existing facility and remove twice the amount of pollutants, according to Bill Olver of Olver Associates, the Winterport-based engineering service hired to design the new facility.
About $4.3 million is coming to the town in the form of a grant and $6.3 million will be a loan from the USDA, according to Virginia Manuel, the USDA state rural development director.
Manuel said the interest rate on the loan is 2.75 percent and will be paid over 27.5 years.
The town of Bucksport will contribute another $550,000, said Town Manager Michael Brennan.
Annual water bills for Bucksport residents will likely increase to about $600, which is on par with other towns in the area, Olver said.
“The goal is to have the new facility up and running in the next three to five years,” Brennan said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud was on hand to announce the awarding of the USDA loan and grant.
“What makes it special to me is, where I grew up in Medway on the Penobscot River, that’s what got me involved in politics,” Michaud said.
“The first time I ran for the Maine Legislature, I was trying to clean up the Penobscot River which was being polluted by the very mill that I worked at.”
Michaud added that infrastructure projects like this one are fundamental to the economic development of Maine.