Long Pond pumping station in Southwest Harbor. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

Funding for fine project hard to find

SOUTHWEST HARBOR–Without the financial support of the town, the Southwest Harbor Water and Sewer District may need to raise rates, again, in order to pay for several upcoming expenses, including a culvert project agreed to in lieu of fines to the Department of Environmental Protection.  

In 2016, the SWH Water and Sewer District was fined by the DEP for fraudulent record keeping at the wastewater treatment plant.  

“They actually wanted to arrest people and put them in jail,” said District Manager Steve Kenney to members of the district’s board of trustees during a meeting last week. “They wanted to fine us $53,000. We were in worse shape then than we are now.” 

Instead of paying the fine, the district agreed to a Supplemental Environmental Project, in collaboration with Friends of Acadia, that would cost the same amount. What the DEP agreed to for the project was the installation of a concrete culvert in the Marshall Brook area to support the watershed there. This project is laid out in an Administrative Consent Order recently issued by the DEP in which the town is a co-signer with the district.  

“The district does not have any funds set aside to complete this project, as the project was originally slated to be paid for by town water and sewer reserve funding,” Kenney wrote in a letter to selectmen requesting funds for the project. “We cannot sign the ACO until such time we know funding is available.”  

At the district trustees meeting, Town Manager Justin VanDongen, who is a member of that board, asked the other members why the town would have to pay for a portion, or all, of the project.  

Although the district became official in 2017, the transition from a town water and sewer department to the water and sewer district was happening in 2016. 

“The town had not physically turned over the water and sewer assets to the water and sewer district,” explained trustee Ben ‘Lee’ Worcester about why the violation listed both the district and the town. “The town can either help us as much as they can or we can fund it through a rate increase.” 

When the violation was handed out, the town’s name was on the discharge permit, selectman Chad Terry said during the board’s meeting this week.  

“I feel, personally, that we are responsible for half of that violation,” he said. Terry added that he would abstain from voting on any funding for the project because his business works with the district.  

“I don’t think they have a big responsibility here at all, but it doesn’t hurt to ask,” said Kenney about the town to the trustees. 

Installation of the culvert is taking place on private property, Kenney explained to the trustees. Property owner, John W. Goodwin, agreed to an easement on the property if his company could do the installation, according to Kenney.  

“I got quotes for fair market value,” said Kenney. “Goodwin said he could do it for $15,000.” 

Worcester questioned whether the discount would satisfy the DEP.  

“The fine is $57,533,” he said. “We’re paying them $58,000 no matter how well we do it.” 

When the district was formed, the sewer aspect of the town’s department had operated at a deficit for several years. Town officials agreed to shoulder that debt, which was about a half a million dollars, if the district agreed to pay it back.  

Each fiscal year the district makes payments of approximately $30,000 to the town to pay down that debt. Selectman Ryan Donahue suggested the town forgo that payment in the next fiscal year so the district could use the money designated for the town towards the culvert project.  

A motion made to that end died because of a tie vote. Selectmen Allen ‘Snap’ Willey and Kristin Hutchins voted against the motion, while Donahue and selectman Lydia Goetze were in favor. Because Terry abstained, the vote ended in a tie.  

“I’d rather not pay them anything,” said Hutchins. “I’d rather they go and borrow the money.” 

Members of the board agreed to revisit the subject at their next meeting with the hope that Kenney or a member of the district’s board of trustees could be present.  

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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