NEWPORT, Maine — The Newport Select Board on Wednesday night chose Ecological Instincts, one of two environmental firms it interviewed in December, to do the first watershed study on Sebasticook Lake in two decades.
The board first heard from Jennifer Jespersen, who owns the Mount Vernon-based firm, on Dec. 15 when she described how her business would handle the project. The other firm in the running was Portland-based FB Environmental Association.
Sebasticook Lake, which spans 4,288 acres, is considered impaired, meaning it doesn’t meet state water quality standards, Jespersen told the board last month. Her team will work to lower the lake’s average phosphorus concentration, address ongoing algal blooms and create a plan that builds public support for restoring the lake, among other things.
Although monitoring phosphorus levels in Sebasticook Lake and raising public awareness about the lake’s health and other aspects of the watershed study will come much later, the board’s selection of an environmental firm gets the process moving. Newport’s last watershed study was published more than two decades ago, following many years of extreme pollution. Ecological Instincts will begin a grant application, due in April, to secure funding for the study, which will provide data about the lake’s water quality and determine methods to maintain good water quality.
At the board’s first in-person meeting in months, members Donna Berry, Gus Demos and Bruce Clarke voted unanimously to select Ecological Instincts. The small Maine business was established in 2015.
“One of the things Jen did mention to me was … our cost share and the parts that we help with, like the sampling, she could train us,” said Brian Wilson, who serves on the lake drawdown committee and initially got in touch with the two firms. “She seemed very willing to show somebody how to do something that would potentially save us money and … allow us to participate too.”
If Ecological Instincts’ grant application is successful, funding from the state would average $45,000-$60,000, Town Manager Jim Ricker said.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection would announce grant awards this summer, Jespersen said. Developing a watershed plan would begin in about a year.
“I would love to help out,” Newport resident Paul Greene said at Wednesday’s meeting after asking how the public would know about project developments. “I’ve been on this lake my whole life. … What I’m hearing here, this is great news to me.”
Ricker encouraged residents to check the Newport Select Board agendas prior to meetings to see if the watershed study will be discussed. Once the firm gets closer to on-the-ground work, the public will have opportunities to weigh in.