Councilor Suslovic Presents Plan for Paying for Sewer Upgrades; Goes to City Council for Approval in May

By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,101)

Last night City Councilor Ed Suslovic outlined a preliminary plan that would pay for upgrades to the Portland sewer system in a fair and equitable way to all property owners at a public meeting. These upgrades are mandated by the Federal government to bring some of the oldest cities in the country up to speed in dealing with sewage and stormwater runoffs. Tens of thousands of feet of sewer pipe in Portland predate the Civil War. The public meeting was held at the city hall at 6:30 pm and lasted about l l/2 hours.

In the last fifteen years, the City has spent $120. million dollars from sewer fees to dig up numerous streets and separate the sewage and stormwater pipes that are currently combined as one drainage system. The problem is that during wet weather, some percentage of this combined sewage overflows into Casco Bay – untreated. To prevent this from continuing and at such an expensive cost, a task force was set up to consider how best to pay for the mandated upgrades which are expected to cost $170 million for the next phase.

The Task Force recommends that property owners who have the largest runoffs because of impervious surfaces (like parking lots, malls and roofs) would now be financially responsible for that under the new plan for the upgrades.

Jim Grattelo, owner of Joker’s Fun and Games, Warren Avenue, came to the meeting concerned that the new fee would force him to close down his business because he has almost 2 acres of impervious land. He learned from Suslovic, however, that the implementation of this new fee will be over a period of years with protections put in place for his benefit. “I came to the meeting concerned about the fiscal impact of this fee, but I feel better. The task force did a good job of explaining it. It will be rolled out over the course of several years,” he said following the meeting.

Because of the separation, stormwater will be stored in underground “collection boxes” in locations around the city. One estimate is there will be six locations; with the base of Munjoy Hill being one location. The collection boxes have yet to be designed and they are commonly used all over the country. The runoff will be deposited into the East End Treatment plan on the Hill and not into Casco Bay – untreated – as currently happens.

Suslovic proposed that a citizens review committee be formed to monitor the billing process so there is no doubt in the publics mind that another Shipyard Brewing Co. situation arises herein.

The Sustainable Stormwater Funding Task Force will meet once again, on March 20 at noontime at city hall. It is anticipated that the plan will go to the city council in May for its approval. It won’t be implemented until 2014.