Citizen group seeks groundwater protections in Brunswick base zoning
BRUNSWICK — A citizen group monitoring environmental clean-up at Brunswick Naval Air Station is pushing for future zoning restrictions that could affect how developers use or contribute to the groundwater beneath the base.
Although such restrictions are in place at other Superfund hazardous waste sites, including the former Loring Air Force Base, the redevelopment authority in Brunswick is urging that such controls should only be put in place after the U.S. Navy conveys all the base property.
The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority's reasoning, according to Executive Director Steve Levesque, is that instituting restrictions now could hurt the marketability of the property or hinder MRRA's bargaining position with the Navy for a higher clean-up standard.
The issue has been bubbling for quite some time, as the Brunswick Area Citizens for a Safe Environment, the non-profit arm of the Restoration Advisory Board, has lobbied for so-called institutional controls that it says will protect against future groundwater contamination at the base.
MRRA, meanwhile, had hoped to add such restrictions after property transfers from the Navy.
Although the citizen group isn't opposed to adding the restrictions later, it wants them mentioned in zoning amendments MRRA is proposing for the base.
The Town Council, which heard from both organizations during a workshop on Monday, will determine if such language is included in the zoning proposal, a document that imposes building and development standards for the entire 3,200 acres of the facility.
To date, the council has taken mostly an observer role during the redevelopment process. However, councilors will make the final decision on the zoning proposal. They will hold a public hearing on the document July 20, and it's expected that the town will meet with the BACSE and MRRA to discuss language referring to zoning protections for groundwater prior to the hearing.
In addition to zoning overlays and controls, the citizen group is also advocating that the town consider expanding the growth zone to include BNAS, even those areas designated for conservation.
Such a move is aimed at prohibiting new wells or septic systems. BACSE argues that such prohibitions are necessary to prevent additional groundwater contamination and to protect residents from a public health hazard.
"We're not just worried about the next five years of development," BACSE spokeswoman Carol Warren told the council. "We're worried about the next 20 years and after."
Warren added that unlike Loring, which adopted deed restrictions, BACSE would most likely seek layered zoning. Warren reasoned that deed restrictions could potentially hamper development because they are permanent.
It's unclear how expanding the growth area would impact the town's extension of water and sewer to base property.
Levesque noted on Monday that there are some areas on the base where new septic or wells could be safe, notably the northwest corner. Bowdoin College is slated to receive about 170 acres of developable property in that vicinity for the expansion of its campus.
It's unclear if the college plans to seek an expansion of the town's existing sewer and water district to accommodate that growth, or who will pay for it.
A message to Bowdoin Vice President Catherine Longley was not returned by press time.
The Environmental Protection Agency often enforces institutional controls like the ones proposed by BACSE. For more information on those controls and the EPA's arguments for and against, visit epa.gov/superfund/policy/ic/guide/guide.pdf.
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or email@example.com