Water Resource Recovery Facility and Route 90 Sewer Expansion

Following the expiration of the 30-year wastewater treatment agreements with Camden in 2020 and Rockland in 2022, we have been actively seeking to either re-negotiate new agreements or develop a plan for Rockport to construct its own, new, state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant. Additional input to the decision-making included discussions associated with an active lawsuit initiated by Camden against Rockport and a March 2022 letter from Camden requiring Rockport to disconnect from their system by March 2026. Moreover, the letter also stipulates that no additional flows could be accepted over current levels (averaging approximately 67,000 gallons per day over the past three years). These issues, as well as potential options, are summarized in the January 2023 Select Board Workshop presentation posted to this website.

In April 2023, the Select Board appointed a Task Force comprised of Rockport residents with related technical and project expertise for the purpose of evaluating potential locations and technologies for constructing our own plant to collect and treat our wastewater. The Task Force served as a communications link between the Select Board, Town staff, and Rockport residents. Importantly, the Task Force was not tasked with resolving any outstanding contractual issues with Camden or Rockland.

The Task Force engaged with the Town’s wastewater engineering firm (Woodard & Curran) over many months of review and analysis, including making site visits to four potential locations within Rockport, as well as touring similar plants located in Lincolnville, Bridgton, and Oxford, Maine. In February 2024, the Task Force and Woodard & Curran issued the Preliminary Engineering Report (PER). The PER provided an evaluation of four potential sites within Rockport, as well as an evaluation of three treatment technologies. It also included estimates of probable cost and a feasibility/risk analysis for each location and technology. A summary of the PER was presented to the Select Board on February 12, 2024; that Select Board presentation, as well as the February 2024 PER, are available on this webpage.

Public meetings on the PER and related matters were held on March 6th (6:30pm) and March 7th (3:00pm), 2024 at the Rockport Opera House. The presentation has been posted to this website (Public Meeting Presentation _06Mar2024). The Task Force recommended locating the new wastewater treatment plant at Pen Bay Medical Center, using Submerged Activated Growth Bioreactor (SAGB) technology. Completion of the Route 90 Extension was also recommended, as it improves the overall project economics, as well as providing other economic and environmental benefits to Rockport.

On April 8, 2024, the Select Board approved putting approval of the bond amount needed to fund the new sewage plant and the Route 90 sewer extension on the June ballot. As part of that meeting, Megan Brackett provided a memo summarizing the project economics (WRRF Rte 90 Funding Models Memo – Final), that is available on the website. 

Three of the financial models are shown below:

    • New contracts with Camden/Rockland
    • WRRF plus Route 90 Extension, with no new development out Route 90
    • WRRF plus Route 90 and construction of 300 homes over 10 years

 

 

 

 

Future costs for the first case (New Contract with Camden/Rockland) were projected using historical rate increases, as well as announced and expected additional capital investment that will be needed in both Camden and Rockland. Year 1 is assumed to be 2028, the first year the new plant would be operating. At that time, as shown in the middle bar graph set above, once the new plant and the Route 90 extension are completed, Rockport’s sewer users can expect to pay approximately $366 more during Year 1 than if contracts could hypothetically be negotiated with Camden and Rockland. However, that amount will decline over the next 10 years, so that by Year 10, Rockport’s users would be paying roughly $1,018 less annually than if we were to pay pursuant to contracts with Camden/Rockland. That reduction in sewer costs will continue to decline each year past year 10, but this graph demonstrates that significant savings will be realized even in the first 10-year period. Although this comparison alludes to a new contract with Camden, Camden’s Select Board has consistently stated, both verbally and in writing, that they want Rockport’s flow off their treatment system by March 2026 or more recently, a later date to allow Rockport time to build its own plant. So, while the financial analysis with Rockport staying on Camden’s system has been provided for comparison, Camden has expressed no interest in Rockport remaining.

The bar graph set on the right side of the figure includes the possibility of additional workforce housing being developed along the Route 90 corridor. As would be expected, this further improves the project’s economics. Additional housing along Route 90 has been discussed for several years, but has been held up, among other things, due to the lack of a public sewage treatment capacity. As of 2024, the shortage of workforce housing has become an acute problem for Rockport, so much so that there is a projected demographic shift to a much older population in the coming decades, one that does not include younger families that are critical to our economic health and diversity. Building a wastewater treatment system that has the capacity to absorb these new users is a key piece of addressing this challenge in the coming decade.

During the same April 8, 2024 Select Board meeting, flow data from Camden’s wastewater system was presented to better understand why Camden has not been willing to enter into wastewater discussions with Rockport, and why they have requested that Rockport disconnect from their system by 2026 (Memo-WRRF Recommendation and Camden Analysis-08Apr2024).

The following graphic depicts Camden’s wastewater treatment system flows from 2016 through 2023.

 

 

By way of explanation:

    • Average Daily Rockport Flow (green line) was taken from the flowmeter located at the town line between Rockport and Camden. It measures the volume of wastewater that Rockport pumps to Camden each day.
    • Average Daily Total “Paid Flow” (red line) was calculated using Camden’s annual wastewater budgets and their published user rates. It represents the flow that is paid for by customers (including Rockport’s users) who are connected to the public sewer system and is, effectively, the primary source of revenue to pay for plant operations.
    • Average Daily Total Plant Flow data (black line) was obtained from the Camden Discharge Monitoring Reports submitted to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on a monthly basis.
    • Inflow and Infiltration (I&I), typically rain or snowmelt or other sources of water migrating into cracks in the buried wastewater lines, was calculated as the difference between the Total Plant Flow (black line) and the “Paid Flow” (red line) and is represented by the gray shaded area.
    • The dotted line is the maximum average monthly flow limit allowed pursuant to Camden’s Discharge Permit issued by the DEP.

The graph shows rather consistent annual flows from paying customers located in both Rockport and Camden. However, the graph also indicates that I&I from Camden’s wastewater collection system is significant, causing frequent apparent exceedances of Camden’s discharge permit limit.

In general, I&I is groundwater and/or surface water, especially during high rainfall events, that flows into distribution system piping through cracks, joints, faulty connections, or collapsed sections and is subsequently pumped to the treatment plant and then discharged into Camden Harbor. Since this requires digging up and replacing old, deteriorated and collapsed sewer lines, among other challenges, Camden’s I&I issue will be costly to mitigate.

Addressing I&I is the subject of a Consent Agreement between Camden and the DEP that was entered in September 2021. The Agreement calls for Camden to identify the source(s) of the I&I and develop mitigation plans. Thus, Camden’s demand that Rockport exit their wastewater treatment system appears to be directly related to their understandable desire to reduce flow to the treatment plant, in order to comply with their discharge permit limit, and ultimately extinguish their Consent Agreement with DEP. Additionally, Camden’s need to reduce their I&I helps explain their inability to provide Rockport with the treatment capacity needed to support economic development activity (including workforce housing) along the Route 90 corridor and elsewhere.

Additional information can be obtained during a public information session currently being planned for the week of May 27th, ahead of the vote on June 11, 2024.