$1.8 Million Sewer System Project Slated to Begin Next Year

By Jayna Smith

The US Department of Agriculture Rural Development announced recently that the City of Calais has been selected to receive a Water and Waste Disposal Grant of $1,300,000, along with a loan in the amount of $500,000.  These monies will be used to replace two sewer pump stations that are 45 years old, as well as to replace 3,600 feet of existing clay tile sewer pipes in the vicinity of Harrison and South Streets.  These upgrades will provide reduced runoff and less infiltration of groundwater into the sewer system, reducing the cost to treat unnecessary flow,and help to avoid untreated sewer overflows into the St. Croix River.

"We were the only project in Maine to be approved," City Manager Jim Porter said.  "We had a project planned anyway."  Porter explained that for nearly fifteen years, the City has been under a consent agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection due to issues involving the waste water treatment.  

"Back in 2002, we were facing fines because of overflows into the river.  When a pump station fails, or breakdowns, it fills up and can't pump it to the next station or down to the treatment plant, it overflows into the river," he said. "Facing those fines, we had to sign a consent agreement which said we would fix and continue to fix and continue to update the waste water treatment system."

Since that time, the City has taken great steps to update the system with many project completed and still in the works.   "We're actually ahead of schedule, including the King Street pump station.  It's a key pump station because everything from that side of Milltown goes into that pump station.  It pumps it to the next station which is Union Street, and then it gets pumped up over the hill and feeds down to the plant."

Porter said that storm systems and sewer systems are supposed to be separate.  In Calais, however, the two systems are combined.  "Going way back, (the storm and sewer systems) were never separated so we have storm water going into the treatment plant.  It costs money to treat whatever you're treating," he stated, and those costs include the cost of electricity to pump it.  

Heavy rains play a major role in the combined sewer overflow.  "It isn't as bad as a pump station because a pump station is all sewerage but when you have combined sewer overflow, it's mostly rain water but there's sewerage mixed in and that gets dumped into the river."  Porter did say this overflow is treated before entering the river.  "The State expects those and we do have to report it.  But we've cut down on that quite a bit."

The total number of gallons treated at the plant has been reduced drastically in the last few years.  "The total annual flow in 2005 was 44 million gallons, and in 2013 it's been cut down to 10 million gallons.  We've reduced it by 80%."  This reduction is due by the continued upgrades, including the replacements of many pump stations throughout the City.  Porter said there are 15 major pump stations, along with smaller ones.  "The whole system was started in 1968 with a federal act, so those pump stations go back to that time.  We've replaced most of them."

With the continued upgrades under the grant and loan slated to begin next year, City Manager Jim Porter explained that residents will not see a decrease to their sewer bills. "We have this $1.3 million grant, then we have this $500,000 loan.  That will be 30 years at 2.2%.  We are retiring some debt in the next year so that will cover that.  The sewer rates won't go up, but they won't necessarily go down either.  We're still under that consent agreement.  Sewer rates are set every year depending on the sewer budget, and we haven't had an increase in the sewer budget in a number of years now, three or four years.  Our sewer rates are very high and that's one of the reasons why we can get grants," he stated.


Porter also reported that the City is working to receive a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that will be matched by this newly awarded grant.  "We're looking to get a million dollars from that program to do the same projects so it would be a $2.8 million instead of $1.8.  That would completely do it.  But we'll move ahead with what we can do with this no matter what, but we're hoping that $500,000 we invest at that low interest multi-year loan  that we don't have to pay back for thirty years will leverage 2.3 which is a pretty good return.  We won't get that opportunity in the future."