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South Portland signs group contract to clean up polluted Long Creek watershed

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South Portland signs group contract to clean up polluted Long Creek watershed

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Wednesday formally signed an agreement to work with other west end property owners to improve water quality in the Long Creek Watershed, an urban impaired stream spanning four municipalities that must be cleaned up by 2020. 

The agreement marks a milestone in a collaborative project between private and public land owners that has been underway for nearly three years and was recognized last year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a model for other communities.

"In the big picture, this whole process may be one of the most important, momentous actions this city takes," Mayor Tom Coward said. "It was very large potential for significantly improving the quality of life in important areas of the city."

Since August 2007, South Portland has been leading efforts to reach out to land owners in the Long Creek watershed and develop a cost-effective plan for improving water quality. The goal is to restore Long Creek as a habitat for fish and recreation.

Last July, a steering committee released a watershed management plan and in November the state Department of Environmental Protection signed off on a collaborative permitting process that is expected to drastically reduce clean-up costs for land owners.

Although land owners can opt out of the group project, David Thomes, the city's collections system manager, said the group approach is much less costly.

Thomes said the city will only have to contribute $3,000 an acre in start-up costs for a district-wide plan, rather than $50,000 an acre by going it alone.

"This is a huge benefit for the city," he said.

The city has a little more than 20 acres of paved area in the watershed, translating to a start-up cost of about $60,000. Thomes said the city may earn between $10,000 and $15,000 in credits for increasing street sweeping and reducing paved areas. 

The contract states that land owners will also be charged on an annual basis for storm water upgrades. Each landowner will be charged a percentage of the total project cost of any given year that coincides with the amount of paved surface they own in the district.

A 16-member board of directors will oversee the implementation of a group plan to improve storm-water systems and best management practices for maintaining paved lots and streets.

South Portland has the greatest influence on the panel, since the vast majority of the 3.5-square-mile watershed is in the city. The city has seven board members, including Chairman Gerard Jalbert of the South Portland Land Trust and Councilor Jim Hughes.

Councilors on Monday also appointed four private land owners to to the board: Craig Gorris of the Maine Mall, Dave Russell of Fairchild Semiconductor, Ed Palmer of the Marriott at Sable Oaks and Brian Goldberg of Bramlie Development Corp.

Storm-water coordinator Fred Dillon said said the city sent e-mails to 60 west end owners of land with an acre or more of paved area soliciting their participation. Seven responded with interest, including Vincent Maietta of V&E enterprises and Glenn Wilson of Kimko Realty.

"Even those folks who feel a little jilted – and there's no indication they are – will have opportunities to participate," Dillon said.

Tamara Lee Pinard, who is administering the program through the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, said in an e-mail that only one out of the 120 land owners in the district have decided to go it alone.

Pinard said that stakeholders from Portland, Scarborough and Westbrook as well as the state Department of Transportation and Maine Turnpike Authority have until May 18 to join the effort. 

The group will meet on May 21 at Portland City Hall to elect officers and vote on a water quality monitoring program, financial policies and procedures manual, among other things.

Clean-up efforts funded through the federal stimulus bill have already taken place, including an experiment using porous pavement on Maine Mall Road and stream buffer upgrades to Jackson Creek, which runs along Philbrook Avenue.

Meanwhile, Pinard said filtering soils and tree box filters are currently being installed along Darling Avenue and sand filters are being used behind Dick's Sporting Goods to clean up runoff from Mallside Plaza.

Pinard said the Long Creek group continues to work with the state's congressional delegation to secure public funding for the efforts.

"Sen. (Susan) Collins, Sen. (Olympia) Snowe and Rep. (Chellie) Pingree have been supportive of our efforts and we look forward to continuing to work with them to clean up Long Creek and its watershed," she said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net