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November 30, 2022

$5M upgrade of Blue Hill water treatment plant aims to protect it from sea level rise

water and wharf Courtesy / T.Higgins The Blue Hill wharf, as seen from the wastewater treatment plant, is seen underwater. It’s one of a number of town-owned facilities vulnerable to sea level rise.

A $5 million project is on the docket to upgrade and repair a Blue Hill wastewater treatment plant considered vulnerable to rising sea levels.

The treatment plant is the town asset at greatest risk with regard to the current sea level at high tide due to its shoreside location at 48 Water St., according to a 2020 task force report.

The task force generated a list of town-owned assets that could deteriorate due to sea level rise, and the wastewater treatment facility was at the top due to its vulnerability at full moon and other high tides and storm surges.

“Rising sea levels and storm surge events have the potential to cause increasing harm,” the report said.

The facility is located less than one foot above the highest annual tide and has experienced trouble with outflow as pressure builds during high tides.

Immediate needs include replacing failing equipment that has reached the end of its useful life. In addition, generators will be added and equipment replaced at the town's two pump stations. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that it awarded a loan of $2.75 million and a grant of $1.25 million towards the cost of the upgrades and repairs at the 47-year-old facility. 

“As I saw in my visit to the plant in August, the last few years of rising tides in Blue Hill Harbor have left the plant in need of some upgrades and repairs,” U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, said in a news release. 

Golden said that, earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed an additional $1 million for the project, bringing the total funding to $5 million. It remains unclear whether the Senate will act on the House-passed legislation. 

The facility, which serves nearly 1,000 people, was built in 1975 and underwent a major upgrade in 2000. While the plant is working well and routinely meeting its effluent discharge license requirements, the equipment is either 46 years old if original, or 21 years old if part of the upgrade. 

“This raises a concern given that the expected useful life of wastewater treatment process equipment is typically considered to be 20 years,” the USDA said. “While the town's wastewater treatment plant continues to serve the community well, its age and its location along the shore are valid concerns that should be considered as a high priority.”

The facility is just one piece of town-owned infrastructure identified by the local task force as being at risk to sea level rise, storm surges and increased freshwater runoff from major weather events.

Other vulnerable facilities, also located along the shore, include the Blue Hill Fire Department, the town wharf, a cemetery, a town park and some state- and town- owned roads.

Overall, the task force identified a number of paths Blue Hill might pursue to mitigate the intrusion of the ocean into the area, including rip rap, living shorelines, sea walls and locks.

The task force recommended the town prepare for sea level rise scenarios of up to 3 feet by 2050 and 8.8 feet by 2100.

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