After a nearly four-hour meeting on March 7, Portsmouth city councilors delayed voting on a $75 million bond for upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment facility on Peirce Island.
Dozens of residents spoke against the city’s plans for upgrading the plant, asking the council to consider locating the upgraded facility at Pease International Tradeport rather than on Peirce Island. The council voted to recess the meeting and resume it on Monday, March 14 at 7 p.m. after almost four hours of public comments.
The city’s existing wastewater treatment facility does not meet federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements for removing nitrogen from the water. The total cost of the project is estimated at $83.3 million. Monday’s hearing was for authorizing bonding for $75 million in project costs. Funds from sewer use fees would repay the bonds.
Though mayor Jack Blalock said at the beginning of the meeting that public comments should be about financing for the project and not location, most of the residents and business owners who spoke were opposed to upgrading the Peirce Island facility, with most suggesting the facility move to Pease.
“The city council has already voted multiple times to proceed with upgrading at the Peirce Island location, and the vote tonight is to authorize the bonding of this project, and not to revisit prior decisions,” Blalock said. “The Pease option has been studied extensively and it’s been determined this option is not viable.”
During the hearing, residents and South End business owners expressed concerns about the impact construction will have on the neighborhood and the city as a whole, traffic impacts, safety issues, and other concerns.
Construction is expected to take roughly four years and will limit recreation on Peirce Island. A full description of the plan is available at cityofportsmouth.com. 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.
Thistle Jones, the director of marketing for Pickwick’s Mercantile, located on State Street, said the “South End is experiencing a renaissance” and that the plan will adversely affect residents, businesses, and visitors.
“Visitors who encounter an unpleasant experience once will not bother to visit (Portsmouth) again,” she said. — Larry Clow