2016-09-22 / News

Residents along watershed to be told about run off

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The city was granted a conditional award by the Maine Department of Education to clean up Thatcher Brook, which zig zags across the Biddeford and Arundel municipal boundaries. The grant of $139,790 is one of 12 grants totaling $860,000 that the department has allocated.

The department informed the receiving communities of the grant awards on Aug. 25. The state receives an annual disbursement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, which it then awards to communities based on a needs assessment.

Saco also received a grant of $126,881 for efforts to clean up GooseFare Brook, which flows through both Saco and Old Orchard Beach.

“It was a very strong proposal coming right off the heels of a project where Biddeford, Saco and the DEP were involved in making a strategic plan,” said Norm Marcotte, nonpoint source project manager for Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “We’re most psyched about the extent and depths of which local stakeholder engagement was relatively strong.”

Marcotte said the awards are conditional and must be matched by the communities, and will be awarded after Jan. 1, 2017, and after the projects have started.

Thatcher Brook is a tributary of the Saco River that has been listed as an “impaired stream” by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, indicating that pollution exists at harmful levels. The Clean Water Act mandates that management actions be put in place to reduce pollution and improve water in impaired streams.

Ken Buechs, a member of the Biddeford Conservation Commission, said the city paid a Portland consulting firm, GZA Geoenvironmental, Inc., $65,000 two years ago to develop the Thatcher Brook Watershed Management Plan. Buechs said remediating the brook will likely cost nearly $500,000.

Of the watershed’s 7 square miles, 2.7 square miles is considered “heavily polluted.”

Buechs said officials from Biddeford and Arundel worked with consultants, the Department of Environmental Protection and York County Water and Soil Conservation District, to develop the management plan. The conservation commission, Buechs said, has been charged with instituting an outreach plan to 955 Biddeford residents along the brook to encourage them to take voluntary measures to control runoff into the brook.

“The key word to this is ‘runoff,’” Buechs said. “If we don’t pick up dog waste, and we put hazardous and harmful ingredients in our lawn, it ends up in (Thatcher Brook).”

Buechs said the source of runoff into the brook is both residential and commercial.

“We’ve got the shopping centers, and Biddeford Crossing, and then you consider all of the parking lot coverages, the exits and entrances to the turnpike – everything flows down to the Saco River basin.”

Chris Feurt, an associate lecturer in University of New England’s department of environmental studies, said university students will get involved next spring in educating residents and students in Biddeford public schools about the importance of reducing runoff.

“It took 100 years to pollute the stream, it’s going to take a long time to clean it up,” she said. “It takes a very long view undoing the damage from the past.”

Jessica Burton, executive director of Southern Maine Conservation Collaborative, said the Biddeford Conservation Commission is the first public body to join the organization.

“They did so to have access to our technical assistance services that we offer, as well as to be a part of our large network,” Burton said.

The collaborative has 20 member organizations, including land trusts and conservation organizations. Burton said membership in the collaborative costs $1,000 a year.

Burton said the collaborative helps the conservation commission with logistics, such as doing layout and design for promotional materials, press releases, facilitating meetings, keeping the commission on task and on schedule with deadlines and developing education programs.

“It’s a lot about awareness building,” Burton said. “There is a brook and watershed and what we do on land affects the water.

“In the watershed, the land that collects the water that ends up in the brook, some of that may be filtered by grass and natural areas. It may get to the brook but has been cleaned. The storm drains or runoff from impervious surfaces goes straight in the brook.”

Buechs said there are things that both residents and commercial entities can do to reduce runoff into Thatcher Brook.

An example of good commercial stewardship, Buechs said, is a new strip mall that was constructed and opened earlier this year, called Biddeford Shoppes, across Alfred Street from The Shops at Biddeford Crossing.

“It was voluntary,” he said. “The owners have put in catch basins there so any water coming off the property (is captured).”

Another component of the state grant is that the city must develop ordinances.

Feurt, who worked with the conservation commission to help draft the grant proposal, said, “One thing that we put in the grant was that we would be working with the city planning and codes departments on ordinances that might offer greater protection in the future to keep pollution out.”

Buechs said he was uncertain whether one such ordinance would be to require other commercial properties such as The Shops at Biddeford Crossing or Home Depot to also install catch basins.

As part of the YardSmart outreach initiative, the commission sent informational pamphlets to residents in the watershed area to encourage them to refrain from using pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or fertilizer, to grow lawns to 3 inches in height and to maintain a 25-foot buffer of untrimmed plant growth from the water.

In Portland, a stormwater service charge was enacted this year that charges property owners a fee depending on how much square footage of rooftops and paved areas is present. All properties are assessed the fee unless the property owner demonstrates to the city that there is surface area that is not impervious.

“I don’t know that we’re going that far,” Buechs said, “but certainly the mandate is that we got to write ordinances to cover all this.”

Buechs said City Planner Greg Tansley will help write some requirements into the city’s comprehensive plan.

Buechs said in the long run, the state will want to see improvement at Thatcher Brook, which will be measured by the amount of bacteria present in the waterway.

“If it decreases, then we’re making improvements,” he said.

The city has allocated $40,000 for cleanup in this year’s budget, but Buechs said the funds won’t be spent until 2017, when they can be counted as matching funds toward the state grant.

Burton said environmental development is just as important as economic and cultural development in the Biddeford- Saco region.

“It’s an exciting place in the state right now. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on culturally and economically and to add in that a connection to the natural environment and put it on an equal footing with those things is what this project is trying to do,” Burton said. “The natural resources of Maine are the big thing. It’s what we have. It’s our biggest product. It’s crucial, and especially in an urban area.”

Return to top