Rainfall creates sewage problem for some Bath residents

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BATH — With recent heavy rainfall causing sewage overflows on Park Street, residents of the area asked the City Council on Wednesday to take action to curb future problems.

Juliet Connelly and Aaron Park of 24 Park St. submitted a June 30 letter to the City Council and City Manager Bill Giroux that described the sewer overflowing on June 12 after a moderate rainfall, and then on June 19 after a heavy rain.

“On this date, when the system gave out, fluid gushed like a geyser for hours, filling up five neighboring yards with sewage that was more than 3.5 feet deep,” they wrote. “On Juniper Street, our neighbors could not get to their front door. And on Park Street, our gardens were infected with sewage. Because of this, we are not willing to eat anything from our garden, which was to be the mainstay of our summer meals, winter storage and canning.”

Linda Coit of 33 Park St. asked the city to revisit the sewage system work completed last year to correct drainage issues on her street. “After enduring months of inconvenience, and many, many dollars later, there is still a problem,” she said.

“It affects our neighbors because they fear that their children are playing in raw sewage and sludge,” Coit added. “They don’t want their pets to go outside, and it will affect us indirectly in that we will lose really good neighbors.”

Bath Public Works Director Peter Owen said $1.4 million was spent on last year’s project. John Brandon, Coit’s husband, said he believes the money was spent in good faith, but that something else needs to be done. He said one family has already left the neighborhood because of the water issue.

Giroux expressed frustration about the problem, but noted that the repairs have demonstrated some success, evidenced by “little if any sewage” mixed in with the water. He said engineers are looking at other possibilities for addressing the problem, but that those fixes could be expensive. Giroux also said the area has a history of having a lot of water in it.

Owen said last year’s project was not meant to be a complete solution, but rather an initial step, the least expensive option to address the overflow issue.

“The intent was to do this project first and see if we would have some successes with that before we spent additional funds,” he said.

He said the area faces two issues: topography that is low and accumulates floodwater, and manholes that are backing up.

Owen said some samples of the water have been taken, and that trace elements of fecal bacteria were found. “The population’s so low you can’t determine that it was sewage, because you could get that same population in regular storm water run-off,” he said.

Giroux added that it is very likely that there was sewage mixed in, although not as much as there was prior to last year’s repairs.

Owen called the issue complicated, and explained that Bath’s system was built years ago and that heavy rainfall overwhelms the pipelines. Owen said recent rainfall has been equivalent to a 100-year storm.

“We didn’t have 7 inches of rain, which is a 100-year storm event, but for a 12-hour period we had about 3 inches of rain,” Owen said. “If you extrapolate that out, that’s basically a 100-year storm. So the pipelines that are in the ground are experiencing the type of intensity in this combined system that they’re not designed to take.”

Owen said it would take a significant investment to find a solution. “We’re going to be pulling together some options that we think would be the way to go as far as a solution, and we’ll be bringing those forward,” he added.

Given the scope of the situation and the large amount of infrastructure that would need to be rebuilt, “at this early stage … I think we’d be misleading people if we say that we’re going to fix this and you’re never going to have a problem again,” Giroux said. “But we can make it better, and that’s what we’ll keep trying to do.”

In other business:

• The council voted 4-2 for an approximately $387,000 contract with Peter Anastos, developer of a downtown hotel project, to build sidewalks and sidewalk amenities along Commercial and Front streets. Those streets surround the future hotel. Councilors Kyle Rogers and David Sinclair, who cast the dissenting votes, questioned the lack of a regular bidding process for this project in order to attract potentially lower bids.

Giroux said the cost is lower than the city’s original estimate and allows for only one contractor to work on the site, as opposed to two crowding into one area.

“Not to say it can’t be done,” Owen said, “It’s just like two cats in a bag. … It doesn’t work well.”

• Councilors approved a nearly $347,000 bid from Pike Industries to handle the city’s 2009-2010 road paving projects, as well as a nearly $608,000 bid from H.C. Crooker & Sons to conduct roadway, parking and pedestrian improvements along Commercial Street. A Maine Department of Transportation grant of $500,000 funds most of that latter project, while the rest comes from city capital funds.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.