SOUTH PORTLAND — A referendum question on the Nov. 4 ballot will ask voters to approve a multi-million dollar bond for sewer and storm drain improvements.
The $3.5 million bond will cover the remaining costs of the $12 million, four-phase plan to modernize the city’s sewer and storm-drain systems.
The 20-year bond will be made through a state revolving fund, and will result in less than a 1 percent increase in residential sewer rates. The current rate of $4.66 per 100 cubic feet of water will increase to $4.70. There will be no net increase in property taxes, and loan payments will be covered through 2024 by tax increment financing.
The first phase of the project, which is nearly complete and was paid for with existing monies, took place on Sunset Avenue. The next two phases will focus on Main Street and Wythburn Road, and the last will focus on the Pleasantdale neighborhood.
At a recent City Council meeting, City Manager Jim Gailey said the project is very similar to what was done to revitalize the Knightville neighborhood in 2012.
“It’s an exciting project, one that will (usher in) a new era to Route 1 and Main Street,” Gailey said.
Water Resource Protection Director Patrick Cloutier said the city will take a “complete streets approach,” meaning that a wide range of needs in the targeted areas will be addressed during construction: Roads will be repaired, and sewer lines and utilities will be replaced in problem spots.
According to referendum literature, this will “redesign Main Street for better traffic flow, wider sidewalks, bicycle lanes, safer crossings and better lighting.”
The project is also part of an effort to eliminate combined sewer overflow outlets around the city, which often empty untreated discharge into Casco Bay. Any runoff from driveways and streets contributes to this issue, as well as to the flooding of basements and streets during powerful storms.
CSO plants, like the ones at Cash Corner, Broadway, and Evans Street and Turners Island, separate the storm water from the sewage and then treat the sewage using modern gravel wetlands systems. The amount of waste discharged into the bay is “significantly reduced” with these plants and improvements to existing infrastructure, Cloutier said.
The CSO outlets were constructed in the 1980s. There were originally 36 of them, but the city has eliminated all but six. Both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection want to see all of the outlets gone.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” Cloutier said.
For the most part, Cloutier said, residents have been receptive to the plan. Although there have been some construction complaints, he said, people are noticing the improvements in the Sunset Avenue area. A construction representative is always available on site, and a public meeting to hear the public’s concerns will be scheduled for later this fall, he added.
The city has been separating CSO for years, and seeing positive results, especially compared to the state as a whole.
South Portland, for example, contributes just 1.9 percent of the 430 million gallons of waste water that the state produces annually, Cloutier said.