News in brief: Portsmouth approves wastewater treatment expansion

Seacoast news in brief

by Larry Clow

News in brief


Wastewater treatment expansion approved

The city will soon begin work on an $83.3 million upgrade to its wastewater treatment plant on Peirce Island. City councilors voted 8-1 on March 14 in favor of a $75 million bond to pay for the project.

The vote came a week after a nearly four-hour-long council meeting, during which dozens of residents spoke against the Peirce Island treatment facility, citing concerns about the impact construction could have on the South End neighborhood, how it will affect recreation on Peirce Island, and safety issues, among others. Residents held a rally outside city hall before the March 14 meeting and urged councilors to consider relocating the treatment facility to Pease International Tradeport.

Early in the meeting, assistant mayor Jim Splaine, who said he was opposed to upgrading the Peirce Island facility and wanted to see a regional wastewater treatment plant at Pease, asked the council to consider removing the words “Peirce Island” from the bond and discuss other potential locations.

“If we are able to find a way to open the discussion for just a little longer … if we’re able to eliminate the reference to Peirce Island from the motion, we can have that discussion in the next few weeks,” he said.

Splaine’s motion failed, and the council then heard from city staff about the project. The city’s existing wastewater treatment facility does not meet federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements for removing nitrogen from the water. City attorney Robert Sullivan said an agreement with the EPA requires the city to move forward with upgrading the Peirce Island facility in order to meet EPA-imposed deadlines.

“The city’s … obligations in federal court do not allow for a realistic change in plan at this point to go to Pease. There simply isn’t time to do it,” he said.

Councilor Brad Lown said the city has “kicked the can down the road for 30 years, and we can’t keep kicking the can down the road. … Time is of the essence.” Lown said that concerns about how construction will impact Peirce Island and city neighborhoods would be addressed by the council.

Construction is expected to take roughly four years and will temporarily limit recreation on Peirce Island. A full description of the plan is available at the city’s website. Though the public pool and boat launch will remain open, the walking trails and off-leash dog area will be closed during construction. The city has said the state-owned fish pier will not be impacted, and Four Tree Island will remain open.

The council voted 8-1 to approve the bond; Splaine voted against the proposal. The council voted unanimously to ask potential contractors to come up with plans to transport construction materials by barge.


State rep holds listening session

Maine state Rep. Bobbi Beavers, who represents Eliot and parts of South Berwick and Kittery, will host a listening session for constituents on Saturday, March 19 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Eliot Town Hall, located at 1333 State Road in Eliot. For more information, contact [email protected].