The town of Southwest Harbor and the local water and sewer district have opted to fund a culvert improvement project as part of an agreement with the state over sewage treatment violations that included releasing under-treated sewage into the harbor.

The violations occurred in 2016 while ownership and operation of the local water and wastewater systems were being transferred from the town to the then-newly created district. The violations are part of the reason why the town and district have a plan to spend $15.6 million to upgrade the local sewage treatment plant located next to Dysart’s Great Marina on Apple Lane.

The culvert project cost $57,355, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. There were 19 different violations at the plant that included discharging under-treated sewage into the harbor, failure to follow standard sampling protocols, failure to file data reports with the state department, failure to retain records, and failure to properly maintain its facilities.

Many of the violations were a result of failure by the plant manager, who has since been replaced, to “properly supervise staff, competently operate the treatment plant and ensure that many of the most basic license requirements were met,” according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

The town and water and sewer district had the option of simply paying a fine to the state, but opted instead to fund a local infrastructure improvement project that met the state’s approval, said Steven Kenney, manager of the water and sewer district.

The town and district partnered with Friends of Acadia and agreed to replace a 12-inch round, corrugated steel culvert where Marshall Brook runs under Seal Cove Road with a rectangular concrete culvert 4 feet high and 6 feet wide, he said. The brook runs from Acadia National Park into private property in town and then drains into Bass Harbor Marsh, which also is in the park.

The culvert “was severely undersized,” Kenney said, noting that increasingly heavy downpours caused by climate change have made many old culverts throughout the state obsolete.

The bigger project will be upgrading the local sewage treatment plant, which was built in the early 1970s and is “well past its prime,” Kenney said.

The district and town found out in December 2018 that they are getting an $8 million low-interest loan and a $7.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund the facility upgrade, but Kenney said they are still in the design phase.

“It’s a multi-year process,” he said. “We’re hoping to go out to bid this spring.”

It could be 2022 or 2023 before the project is complete, according to Kenney, but the upgrade will make it easier for the town to avoid similar violations in the future.

Bill Trotter

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....