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Updated: July 8, 2024

Saco breaks ground on wastewater plant designed to withstand climate change

People stand in a line with shovels for the Saco treatment plant groundbteaking. Photo / Courtesy, Office of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, center, joined Saco city personnel to break ground on a wastewater treatment plant designed to withstand climate change.

The city of Saco broke ground last week on an upgraded wastewater treatment plant, which is expected to improve municipal sewer services and the health of the Saco River.

The facility treats wastewater for more than 12,000 residents and 375 businesses. The location, on Front Street and beside the tidally influenced river, has experienced flooding and extreme weather events.

“This investment will enhance the capacity and efficiency of Saco’s water resource recovery facility, ensuring that it can better meet the needs of their population now and into the future,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who spoke at the groundbreaking. It was also attended by city leaders and members of the Saco Water Resource Recovery Department.

This aerial view shows a treatment plant next to a river.
Photo / Courtesy, City of Saco
The location, within a few feet of the tidally influenced Saco River, has experienced flooding and extreme weather events.

According to city documents, Saco faces three primary threats in handling wastewater: tidal influences from the Saco River; stormwater melt from an adjacent hill; and wet-weather impacts that cause hydraulic backups where the treated water can't properly leave to the Saco River. 

The threats are exacerbated by low-lying elevations, increasing and intensifying storms, aging infrastructure and a growing population. 

Construction of the new facility is expected to be complete by the spring of 2027.

Initial work includes soil removal and preparing the site for foundation work that includes the installation concrete and beams called H-piles. There will also be work around the city-owned Front Street garage and boat launch.

The existing treatment plant will remain fully operational throughout the project.

The city expects the upgraded plant to play a crucial role as climate changes worsen.

“This January, we saw extreme flooding at the facility during the storms, further proof that Saco voters chose to take the right action at the right time,” Howard Carter, the department’s director, said in a separate statement.

EPA partnership

In 2020, the city created an ad hoc committee to work in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a project design. Project goals included:

  • Increase treatment capacity to meet anticipated regulatory requirements and future growth needs
  • Raise the site and Front Street to be resilient to sea level rise
  • Relocate, remove or build new at higher elevations
  • Reclaim open space and provide for a safer overall site layout
  • Provide enhanced public amenities for an adjacent Riverwalk Trail.

In November 2021, Saco voters approved a bond of up to $50 million to upgrade the facility, and to accept state and federal funding to support the project. 

Collins helped secure $3.93 million in congressionally directed spending through the FY 2022 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill to upgrade the facility.

This drawing shows the plan for the new Saco wastewater treatment plant.
Image / Courtesy, City of Saco
The concept plan shows raised areas, berms and other changes designed to withstand climate change impacts like extreme flooding.

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