Portland poised to acquire 43 acres to protect Capisic Brook

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PORTLAND — A proposed $800,000 land deal off Warren Avenue could hasten improvements to Capisic Brook, one of the city’s longest waterways.

On Monday, Aug. 3, the City Council will vote on the purchase of 42.5 acres of land behind Happy Wheels and other businesses in the 300 block of Warren Avenue.

The acquisition received a favorable recommendation from the council Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee on July 15.

The purchase from Scarborough-based PH Warren Ave LLC would be funded through sewer bonds issued as part of the fiscal year 2014 sewer fund portion of the city capital improvements plan.

Department of Public Works Director Mike Bobinsky said this means the bond will be repaid through sewer revenues, rather than property tax revenues.

The land, appraised at $790,000, is critical to restoration efforts for the stream, one of five in the city considered “urban impaired,” Bobinsky said this month.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, “a stream is considered impaired if it fails to meet water-quality standards because of effects of stormwater runoff from developed land.”

In a July 10 memo to the committee, Bobinsky said the property has been of interest since before the City Council adopted a watershed management plan to restore Capisic Brook in 2012.

The study and management plan development was funded through a $100,000 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant in 2009.

If the purchase is approved, a treatment area constructed of gravel will be added to the wetlands to help filter runoff from area homes and businesses in what is considered Capisic Brook’s northern branch, Bobinsky said.

The source of the northern portion of the brook is near Morrill’s Corner at Forest, Allen and Stevens avenues. The brook joins a branch south of Warren Avenue and behind Evergreen Cemetery, and then a western branch that flows from beyond Maine Turnpike Exit 48. Its entire watershed encompasses 1,418 acres, according to the management plan developed by city-based Woodard & Curran.

The restoration plan would increase dissolved oxygen levels in the water, while reducing contamination from the homes and businesses and elevated water temperatures caused by storm runoff.

The entire restoration project cost was estimated at $18.5 million in the management plan, including $4.2 million for work on the brook’s north branch. Similar projects with an estimated $6 million cost are planned for the west branch of the brook.

North branch work could begin in spring 2016, Bobinsky said.

If the purchase is approved, the wetlands will also become an outdoor classroom for students at nearby Riverton Elementary School and Community Center, he added.

“I can imagine an outdoor lab or education center there to help students understand water management and pollution control,” Bobinsky said. Another education area is anticipated for Hall School students along the brook’s west branch.

Farther downstream, where the brook widens as it approaches Capisic Street, work unrelated to the management plan, but integral to the waterway’s health, is expected to begin in late summer 2016.

The Capisic Pond Enhancement Project will restore about 4.5 acres of open water to the pond through the removal of invasive cattails. The pond bottom will be dredged and banks replanted in an effort to create a more diverse habitat for wildlife, according to a June 2 presentation by the city.

Bobinsky said the work must begin in late summer and be completed in the autumn in order to minimize disruption to the habitat.

Funding for the $2.3 million project was split between the municipal and sewer portions of the fiscal 2015 and 2016 capital improvement plans. The municipal bonds will be repaid with property tax revenues, the sewer bonds will be repaid through sewer fee revenues. 

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

A project to remove invasive plants from Capisic Pond in Portland, seen here on July 22, is expected to begin in late summer 2016.

City Councilors on Aug. 3 will be asked to approve the purchase of 42.5 acres off Warren Avenue as part of efforts to restore the health of Capisic Brook. The funding was set aside in fiscal year 2014 and will be repaid through revenues from sewer fees.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.