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Brunswick Sewer District reviewing policies after town escapes DEP fines

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Brunswick Sewer District reviewing policies after town escapes DEP fines

BRUNSWICK — The Brunswick Sewer District will review its policies at a March 14 meeting, after a sewer line at the town's new police station was damaged during construction in December.

The incident was unreported for weeks, and the state Department of Environmental Protection said in a Feb. 26 letter that the town and a construction company working on the station "improperly handled the situation" and could have received hefty fines for unlicensed pollution discharge.

The town has said it will handle such situations differently in the future, but the overall process disappointed at least one councilor who raised early concerns about the incident.

Leonard Blanchette, BSD's general manager, said the sewer line at the station site on Pleasant and Stanwood streets was damaged sometime in December by ledge blasting done by Harry C. Crooker and Sons, a subcontractor for Ledgewood Construction.

While he doesn't know the exact date the damaged happened, Councilor John Perreault was one of the first people to learn of the incident, after receiving a constituent complaint about the blasting and broken sewer line in early January.

At a Jan. 22 council meeting, Perreault asked his fellow councilors and Town Manager Gary Brown if the town had any responsibility in handling the incident. Council Chairwoman Suzan Wilson and Brown said there was nothing to be done, although Brown said he did follow up with Crooker and acknowledged an investigation by DEP could change that.

After Perreault and other councilors received the Feb. 26 DEP letter, he said he was disappointed with how the town responded.

"I felt that the town just wanted to sweep it under the rug, that they wanted to keep it hush-hush and not talk about it," Perreault said Monday. "My personal opinion is it's not bad talking about bad things that happen. Bad things happen every day. There's nothing wrong in having an approach like that."

In a Feb. 26 letter to Crooker, which was also sent  to Brown, DEP said "an unlicensed discharge of pollutants" is a violation of Maine statute and could have resulted in fines of up to $10,000 for each day the discharge continued.

"It is the Department's position that this matter was improperly handled and had the potential to result in an unlicensed discharge of pollutants in violation of (Maine statute) for which both Crooker and the town of Brunswick may have been liable," wrote John Glowa Sr., an environmental specialist with DEP.

In the letter, Glowa said Crooker or the town should have informed DEP, instead of leaving it to an anonymous tipster who called DEP more than a week after the sewer line was repaired on Jan. 7.

"The reason we said it was improperly handled is because the matter was not brought to our attention, therefore we could not investigate," Glowa said Wednesday. He said sewer repairs were complete when DEP staff visited the site on Jan. 23.

Brown said he was unaware the broken sewer line could have been a violation of Maine statute until he received the Feb. 26 letter from DEP. He said the town will handle similar incidents with more diligence in the future.

In addition, Brown said the town would not take any action against Crooker.

"Overall, the quality of their work has been acceptable," Brown said. "I would not hesitate to hire them again if the opportunity presented itself."

Phone calls to Crooker were not returned by Wednesday afternoon.

Blanchette said BSD's current charter doesn't provide jurisdiction over sewer lines on private property, so the BSD Board of Trustees is planning to spell out a procedure at its March 14 meeting to address situations that "might affect the health or welfare of the town."

"Right now it's questionable who should do what and when," Blanchette said Wednesday. "The board is going to look at what should we do and spell that procedure out."

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him onTwitter: @DylanLJMartin.