Portland Malls, Hotels Now Need Permits for Stormwater Discharge

PORTLAND, Maine, December 8, 2008 (ENS) – Properties with more than one acre of impervious area, such as parking lots and large roofs, must from now on apply for a Clean Water Act permit for stormwater discharges to Long Creek, which drains a watershed in the Portland metropolitan area.

Long Creek does not meet required state water quality standards so the municipalities within the creek’s watershed – South Portland, Westbrook, Portland, and Scarborough – must take steps to restore the Creek’s water quality. This may require watershed landowners to implement fixes on their properties.

Many of the impervious surfaces causing polluted stormwater runoff to Long Creek are the result of recent development in the watershed, one of the fastest growing areas in Maine, including construction of the Maine Mall, Interstate highways and interchanges, industrial facilities, office parks and hotels.

While most of the Long Creek watershed is in South Portland, the City of Portland owns and operates the International Jetport and the city’s snow dump area within its boundaries.

An aerial view of South Portland, Maine showing
the Maine Mall in the upper left corner as
well as other recent developments.
(Photo courtesy Running Hill)

This expansion of impervious cover has caused an increase in volume and frequency of stormwater runoff, a decline in Long Creek water quality, and violations of Maine’s water quality standards, which are measures of the health of surface waters.

The U.S. EPA and the Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection on Friday announced stricter controls on polluted stormwater discharging into Long Creek, a freshwater stream that flows into Clark’s Pond, the Fore River, and then into Casco Bay.

The permits will require that owners of properties with more than one acre of impervious area reduce pollution by allowing stormwater to percolate into soils, by conducting more frequent and thorough street sweeping, by being more careful in storing polluting materials, such as oils and paints, on their property, or by conducting other stormwater management and stream restoration activities.

Stormwater runoff at sites with large paved areas, including shopping malls and parking areas, can deposit concentrated amounts of sediment, nutrients and toxic metals into surrounding waters.

In Portland, every time there is measurable rainfall, combined sewer overflows send a mix of rain water and raw sewage into Casco Bay.

“Polluted stormwater runoff causes serious water quality problems, because significant amounts of pollutants can be carried from roads, parking lots and roofs directly to rivers, streams and lakes,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “By working closely with the Maine DEP, we will help restore ecological health to Long Creek.”

“We also intend to allow facilities to have flexibility and time to meet the new standards,” Varney said.

Large parking lots and roads collect pollution every time a vehicle drives across them or parks on them. Pollutants include zinc from the wear of automobile tires, lead from diesel fuel combustion, copper from auto brake pad wear and oil from auto engines. Pollutants accumulate on these hard surfaces, and are washed off by rainfall that would otherwise percolate into the soil under natural conditions.

Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner David Littell says that, in addition to the state and federal focus on the problem, local officials and businesses have been developing a plan to address it collaboratively.

“South Portland has been a municipal leader in successfully resolving environmental challenges,” said Littell. “Continuing that leadership, South Portland’s officials and business leaders have been working with state representatives and environmental groups on a plan to restore the health of this ecosystem which coexists next to our state’s largest retail shopping area.”

Since 2007, the development of the Long Creek Restoration Plan has included active participation by businesses, the Maine Department of Transportation, the Maine Turnpike Authority and private landowners. The effort has been supported by Maine DEP and the U.S. EPA.

The EPA is exercising its “residual designation authority” under the federal Clean Water Act. This authority allows EPA to regulate previously uncontrolled sources of stormwater pollution contributing to water quality problems.

In 1998, DEP identified Long Creek area as an urban watershed suffering water quality degradation caused by rapid development, including malls and commercial sites. Since then, DEP has conducted numerous scientific studies of Long Creek to better understand the physical, biological and hydrological characteristics of the watershed.

This analysis indicates that Long Creek is being harmed not only by the pollutants contained in stormwater from impervious areas, but also by the volume of stormwater these areas generate.

“Stormwater has become a leading source of water pollution in New England,” said Steve Hinchman, attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, which petitioned the EPA to require permits limiting polluted discharges into Long Creek. “Left unchecked, polluted stormwater could destroy the bays and beaches that are the jewels of the Maine Coast.”

“We commend EPA, Maine DEP, and community and business leaders for addressing the problem and we are committed to working with them to restore Long Creek and areas downstream, including the Fore River and Casco Bay,” said Hinchman.

This action follows a similar EPA decision on November 11 to require permits of stormwater discharges from large impervious surfaces in the upper Charles River watershed in Massachusetts, based on studies showing that stormwater was fueling the growth of excess plant life, including toxic algae, in the Charles River.

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