Summary of Salient Facts
Regarding the new wastewater treatment system at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
The engineers at the Maine State Division Health and Human Services agree that CMBG’s innovative and economical approach wastewater treatment will have no impact on Knickerbocker Lake water quality and that it will be an excellent model for other developments and rural communities looking for an alternative to large municipal sewer systems.
Background on possible sewer service to CMBG
The planning for our 2015-2035 Master Plan began in 2012 and continues to this day. As part of our early assessment, Bill Cullina met with then Boothbay Town Manager James Chaousis on several occasions in 2013 and 2014 to update him on the planning and discuss potential infrastructure improvements that might impact our design development. Jim was struggling to connect sewer to the industrial park, and felt that the cost to connect sewer to CMBG would be prohibitive. He encouraged us to explore on site treatment options instead. At the urging of John Ziegra and Dan Bryer, Bill Cullina and CMBG’s civil engineer met with Chris Higgins in the summer of 2016 to discuss the possibility of federal and state grant funding for a sewer extension, given the job creation/economic impact of the CMBG expansion. Bill Cullina and his staff met with Senator King’s and Collins’s staff as well as Representative Pingree’s staff, in Washington, DC and at the Gardens to get support for infrastructure funding. All were pessimistic about EPA and USDA funding opportunities in the near future. Given the lack of clear, significant funding sources, as well as the long and complicated process necessary to receive federal funds, and also the time required for design, government approvals and construction period, CMBG had no logical choice but to move forward with on-site treatment as originally planned. As it turns out, CMBG developed an onsite wastewater treatment system that we are confident is both far more cost effective and better for the watershed than a municipal sewer on several counts.
Water Quality and impact to Knickerbocker Lake
Neither Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) nor the Town of Boothbay has specific guidelines regarding nutrient (primarily phosphorus) pollution from wastewater treatment systems. (DEP has a 10 mg/l Nitrate limit in ground water at property line requirement for sun-surface disposal systems) However, other research suggests that poorly designed or failing systems, especially antiquated cesspool-type systems, can contribute to pollution if they are within 250 feet of the lake/pond shore or constructed over very sandy soils such as are found on Cape Cod. However, there is NO evidence that a well-designed and maintained septic system contributes pollutants to the water body if it is an adequate distance from the water body and built over the type of soils we typically have in Boothbay. CMBG’s new treatment plant is not located in the Knickerbocker Lake watershed. Only the leach fields under a parking lot are in the watershed and are half mile (straight line distance) from Knickerbocker Lake. We are NOT building a residential type septic system, but instead a commercial self-contained wastewater treatment plant that has been approved by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The CMBG treatment plant functionally uses a process similar to the Boothbay Sewer District’s treatment plant.
The Bioclere® wastewater treatment plant we are installing is safe, reliable, and has been used worldwide for decades. The Bioclere® treatment plants are used by single family homes and towns with up to 2000 inhabitants. Unlike a traditional septic system where brown-water is discharged into a leach field for treatment, it uses microbes to break down and treat waste in several baffled and aerated tanks. The result is that wastewater has a 90% reduction in solids and 80-85% reduction in nitrogen before it goes to the leach field. Additionally, reductions in phosphorus can be obtained using a secondary process if that is desired. (The Boothbay Sewer District’s discharge water is basically clean enough to go straight into the ocean, but at CMBG we are putting it through additional treatment via an onsite leach field.) The onsite treatment plant’s discharge to the leach field will have TSS and BOD levels that are 30% – 60% lower than the Boothbay Sewer District’s allowable discharge limits into Boothbay Harbor.
The new CMBG Visitor Center is scheduled to open in time for Gardens Aglow this November (2017). The Bioclere® system, already permitted by Maine Department of Health and Human Services, is currently being constructed and will be operational for the event. Three different estimates for the timetable on sewer hookup (given the need for surveying, engineering, local and state approval, bidding and timing road disruption around periods of greatest impact) exceed two years. It is not reasonable nor possible for CMBG to leave the building unoccupied for at least a year and a half while awaiting a municipal sewer that could be subject to delays.
Initial engineering and contractor estimates put the cost of running a forced main from Rte. 27 to the Barters Island Road entrance to CMBG at roughly $ 1.9 million. The internal pumping station and sufficient piping to connect CMBG’s planned new Visitor Center to this line would be an additional cost of $550,000. Adding the survey, geotechnical work, engineering and design would bring the total cost to connect CMBG to a municipal sewer extension to about $2.7 million dollars.
The Bioclere® system and associated engineering will cost about $750,000. At roughly one third the cost, the onsite system is certainly more practical.
Impact to Community
According to the Boothbay town ordinance, all residences and businesses within the Water Reservoirs Protection District and Watershed Overlay Zone must connect to town sewer within three years from the date a “Ready to serve” fee is applicable. Depending on distance and need for blasting, this could initially cost property owners $5,000 to $10,000. Further, as part of cost-sharing guidelines, property owners would have to reimburse the funding agency (in this case CMBG and or the town) for half the cost of the sewer line itself. Half of 1.9 million dollars divided by the 7000 foot distance is roughly 135 dollars a linear foot. 200 feet of frontage would equate to a bill of $27,000. Being the largest landowner, the YMCA would be particularly impacted. Further disruption due to blasting and road construction are other factors.
The operation of the CMBG Bioclere® wastewater treatment plant is considerably safer than a municipal pressured-main sewer system in the event of a treatment failure. The Bioclere® plant is control-system monitored 24/7 with immediate notification to managers. CMBG’s new treatment plant is not actually located in the Knickerbocker Lake watershed. It is on the other side of a ridge from the Knickerbocker watershed and the Anthony property. Only the treated water — water that is 50-70 % cleaner than what the Boothbay Harbor Sewer District is permitted to discharge into the ocean — will go to a leach field for further treatment and monitoring. We believe this level of treatment is unprecedented on the peninsula. This system will have regular (monthly or more frequently if necessary) inspections and testing by a licensed operator per state regulations, and CMBG will also set up two test wells downstream of the leach field to regularly test the treated water movement in soils. No raw sewerage is stored or treated within the lake watershed.
Municipal sewer lines, on the other hand, receive no such regular inspections and they fail all the time. Just a few weeks ago there was a massive failure in Kittery:
KITTERY, Maine – The cleanup continued at Carl’s Meat Market on Monday following a massive failure of a sewer pipe that is expected to close the popular business for three to four weeks.
The main sewer line running from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard burst in the vicinity of Route 1 and Route 103 late Wednesday night last week and it caused a 20-foot-by-20-foot sinkhole, according to a store owner.
“The police told me before the break was under control, 120 gallons of raw sewage a minute were coming up through the storm drain in the parking lot,” said co-owner Jim Spencer, who also owns The Golden Harvest next door with his wife, Carla. “Twenty gallons a minute were flooding through the floor drains inside (Carl’s).” (Boston Globe 1/31/17)
If a BHSD municipal sewer lines were installed to CMBG, they would run from the town hall down Corey Lane and Barters Island Rd. Any failure would be catastrophic for the lake and would possibly even cause closure of the reservoir due to E.coli contamination.
Impact on Knickerbocker Lake
Lakefront development and the resulting impermeable surfaces created (roads, driveways, roofs and lawns) are the primary contributor to phosphorus pollution into water bodies because of the un-buffered (untreated) storm-water they generate. CMBG has spent a great deal of time and money to reduce its phosphorus output to a mere ONE teaspoon per acre per year through buffering and treatment systems such as the porous paving it is installing. We can achieve this because our development is a distance from the Lake itself. This level of reduction is simply not possible for lakefront property owners without vast expense, so curbing additional waterfront development while mitigating untreated runoff from existing roads and development around the reservoirs is the best way to preserve and even improve water quality. This was the motivation behind the CMBG donor’s purchase of 24.8 acres of Knickerbocker Lake waterfront. Currently, the four-acre minimum lot size within the watershed protection district coupled with setback requirements for septic systems has curtailed intensive lakefront development like you find on many other lakes in Maine. However, as at the Boothbay Common, installation of sewer would likely reduce the minimum lot size requirement to two acres or less if not subsequently changed by zoning. The resulting lakefront development would have significant negative impact on both the quality of life on Knickerbocker Lake and the quality of the Lake itself.
A better approach
The engineers at the Maine State Division Health and Human Services agree that CMBG’s innovative and economical approach will have no impact on Knickerbocker Lake water quality and that it will be an excellent model for other developments and rural communities looking for an alternative to large municipal sewer systems. Because of CMBG’s concern for the Lake, we are partnering with the Boothbay Region Water District to design and install test wells downstream of our leach fields so we can monitor levels of nitrates and phosphorus to make sure the system continues to operate as designed. We will contract with a licensed operator to assist us with the system operation and testing to ensure that the system is functioning as designed. We firmly believe that self-contained water treatment systems such as the Bioclere® plant are a far better option for rural and island communities wrestling with antiquated septic systems, overboard discharge, and lack of suitable soils.