ROCKLAND, Maine — The city must pay more than $51,000 in penalties, undertake an inspection of all its sewer lines, and submit a plan to correct wastewater treatment deficiencies or face legal action, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
The DEP sent a letter to the city last week rejecting its request to lower the financial penalty and detailing what the agency expects from Rockland to avoid legal action.
Rockland is not the only municipality that has been cited for environmental regulation violations at its wastewater treatment plant. But the city has been cited for more violations in the past two years than any other community and the fine is the largest that has been assessed in those two years by the state agency.
The DEP has reached consent agreements with four Maine communities on their wastewater plants in the last two years. Two of those resulted in fines. Wiscasset was ordered to pay $11,000 in an agreement signed in April 2013 and Portland was ordered to pay $6,350 in July 2013.
The DEP also has issued 12 notices of violations to municipal wastewater plants during the past two years but those have not gotten to the point of consent agreements being sought. Those notices were sent out to Augusta, Bangor, Camden, Eastport, Hartland, Lisbon, Machias and Skowhegan.
Rockland has been cited for more than 100 violations dating to 2008 and continuing through 2014, according to the DEP.
The violations included wastewater discharges into Rockland Harbor exceeding allowable fecal coliform bacteria levels on 29 occasions from September 2008 through September 2013. The city also exceeded the allowable residual chlorine levels in its discharges 14 times from September 2008 through September 2013. The Rockland plant also exceeded the amount of suspended solid waste discharged 27 times from February 2008 through March 2013.
On seven occasions, the city violated its state license by failing to ensure that industrial users pre-treated their wastes properly before sending them to the Rockland plant. This occurred seven times from June 2008 through March 2013.
The DEP also cited the city for failing to properly monitor discharges 64 times from January 2008 through March 2013.
Rockland is being ordered in the proposed administrative consent agreement to pay a fine of $51,362, submit a plan by July on how to eliminate violations of the industrial pretreatment process, submit a plan and schedule by July 1 on how the city will inspect all its sewer lines over the next five years, and by Oct. 1 submit a new plan for its operation and maintenance of the plant.
Rockland Mayor Larry Pritchett said Friday that the problems are not primarily at the treatment plant but are due to the large volume of runoff that comes into the waterfront facility through the combined stormwater and sewer lines throughout the city. That includes water from Lindsey Brook seeping into the lines in some places. This high volume makes its difficult to properly treat the wastewater, he said.
The plant typically processes 1.8 million to 2 million gallons of water in a day but during heavy rains, up to 19 million gallons can flow through the facility.
“It is very difficult for any process to accommodate that large a swing in a matter of a couple of hours,” the mayor said.
He said treatment plant staff has done an outstanding job treating the wastewater to the best level possible given the demands in heavy rain events.
“The core problem is the city’s failure to improve the combined sewer collection system and address related problems in Lindsey Brook,” he said.
In regard to the fine, Pritchett questioned whether that makes sense.
“I would simply ask should the city be sending money to MDEP or spending that money on Lindsey Brook and the combined sewer system?” he said.
The DEP would not comment on how the violations in Rockland compare with other communities, saying the department’s policy is not to comment on pending consent agreements.
Jessamine Logan, director of communications for the DEP, said Friday that it remains the city’s responsibility to monitor whether the water in the harbor is safe for swimming.
Interim City Manager Tom Luttrell said Friday that there has been no pollution detected at Sandy Beach, which is the city-owned beach on the harbor.
The city reopened Sandy Beach in 2007 after spending $13 million to upgrade the treatment plant.
When asked whether the city’s plant can handle additional development projects such as the two proposed hotels for Rockland, Logan said, “Generally speaking, the department and the commissioner feel strongly that there are both environmental and economic benefits of municipalities investing in their wastewater plants. Wastewater improvements help protect public health, keep our water clean and make our communities a more attractive place for businesses to expand or locate.”