Revelations that the sewage treatment plant in Southwest Harbor has experienced numerous operational deficiencies in the past 12 months are worrisome. While the problems reported to town officials seem contained to irregular maintenance and failure to follow recommended procedures, the potential for trouble could be much greater.
The entire outfall from the town’s single treatment plant empties directly into the harbor. Under the best of circumstances, the release of properly treated effluent is about as much of an environmental insult as any marine ecosystem can tolerate. If further inquiry reveals that officials have no idea what has been released because of poor record keeping, the damage could extend far beyond the plant’s internal problems.
Southwest’s harbor is without question the town’s greatest asset. The importance of guaranteeing its aesthetic qualities and the purity of its water, both to protect human health and to insure the preservation of aquatic life, should be one of the community’s highest priorities, without question.
The harbor already faces constant threats from accidental fuel leaks, malfunctioning septic systems both on boats and at private homes, crud-laden storm water runoff, shore-side chemical spills and careless disposal of trash. Minimizing and mitigating those adverse affects is a constant struggle. The town’s wastewater treatment plan is licensed to discharge as much as 375,000 gallons of water a day into the harbor. The potential harm from other cumulative insults pales in comparison to the damage possible should the town’s wastewater treatment plant not be working properly. In discussions at recent Board of Selectmen meetings, town officials have promised to get the operation of the plant back on the right track. And dedicated employees are working long hours to make things right. If necessary, the town should not hesitate to bring in the Maine Department of Environmental Protect to provide additional expertise.
During the winter season, the sewage plant experiences its lowest flows of the year. Now is the time to get the entire treatment regime operating property.
The potential risk to the town’s greatest asset merits making the correction of any and all deficiencies a top priority.