Railroaded or fast-tracked? Town to appeal DEP conditional order

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

The Town of Bridgton will appeal the conditional order set by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection last month that, in effect, rescinded the minimum requirements approved by voters here Dec. 13 for square foot allowance per lot for bedrooms in the General Development II District in the Shoreland Zone.

The Bridgton Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Feb. 14 to file an appeal with the DEP, approving the motion made by Selectman Paul Hoyt.

Issued last month, the DEP’s conditional order imposed a larger, more stringent square foot amount than that approved by voters, effectively amending the language from “per bedroom” to “per residential dwelling unit.” It also set minimum lot sizes at 5,000 square feet. However, DEP officials then lowered that number to 4,000 square feet after Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz told the DEP that Avesta’s plans could not proceed with anything less than 4,100 square feet.

Following more than an hour of at times somewhat heated debate by members of the public and town committees, the selectmen agreed to appeal the matter to the DEP.

The caveat is that the formal appeal is due to the DEP’s Board of Commissioners by the end of the business day on Feb. 27.

Local developer Mark Lopez, who also sits on the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation, formally requested that the appeal to the DEP be made, Tuesday night. Lopez also berated Berkowitz and the selectmen for not releasing a Nov. 22 letter from the DEP that basically indicated the DEP would not approve the amendments scheduled to go before voters on Dec. 13.

Some who spoke Tuesday night accused the selectmen, planning board, town manager and former Economic and Community Development Director Alan Manoian of “railroading” the referendum questions that changed the minimum square foot requirements for General Development I and II Districts through on Dec. 13, without fully informing voters, in order to specifically appease Avesta Housing.

Avesta officials have reportedly expressed an interest in constructing a three-story, 21-unit senior citizen housing complex on the former Chapter 11 site on Main Street located between Depot Street and Gibbs Avenue — but no formal application has been presented to the Bridgton Planning Board.

“I’d be happy if, as a voter, I’d been fully informed before I went to the ballot box (on Dec. 13),” Lopez stated.

Selectman Woody Woodward told Lopez that he would not have changed his mind to put the issue before voters Dec. 13, even if he had seen the DEP’s Nov. 22 letter prior to the referendum vote. Berkowitz explained that, by the time the Nov. 22 was received by the town a week after it was written, the referendum process was already well underway. The selectmen first saw the DEP’s Nov. 22 letter at their meeting on Dec. 13 — the very same day the referendum vote took place.

Responding to a remark by former selectman Earl Cash that the selectmen rushed the vote through for the sake of Avesta, Woodward denied the accusation, saying he would have promoted the amendments to the Shoreland Zoning that would allow further development of the downtown, no matter who the developer was or what the proposed project was.

Woodward stated, “Had I seen that letter, I would have said, ‘We’re going in the right direction, and we’ve got to convince them (the DEP) about the need for this.’ It certainly doesn’t sound like a conspiracy by people to get this (referendum vote) through — I think it was very well vetted.”

“In hindsight, I should have given that (Nov. 22 DEP) letter to you sooner,” Berkowitz told the selectmen.

However, the selectmen and planning board members said that, while the project was “fast-tracked” in order to promote development in the downtown area, they did not “railroad” the effort, or intentionally prevent information from being disseminated to the public prior to the Dec. 13 vote.

Planning Board member Dee Miller said, “I’m concerned people think the (planning) board didn’t do due diligence — we had a (public) hearing — it was compressed — but nothing was untoward.”

“This short-tracking, I think, was the most pro-active business thing the Planning Board ever did,” said Miller. “No, we didn’t throw out our laws — we fast-tracked this. In this competitive market, you have to strike while the iron is hot.”

Sewer capacity discrepancy

One major issue that will be used in the town’s appeal to the DEP is that the full capacity of the municipal sewer fields is not fully known — which is new information the DEP can consider in the town’s appeal, as it was not clear prior to the mid-December vote.

Several people present Tuesday night expressed their concern that the municipal sewer system may be overtaxed by too much use, if a large project in the downtown General Development I and II Districts is allowed.

Engineer George Sawyer, who has been involved with the local sewer system since its inception in the early 1980s, said in his Jan. 16 letter to Berkowitz that in a memo prepared by Wright-Pierce engineers to the town, “there is a definite error in the reported capacity of the disposal beds at the Lower Ball Field and the Dodge Field.”

Sawyer went on to say of the Wright-Pierce memo, “The capacity stated for each bed at the Ball Field, disregarding the OxyPro treatment tank, is 1,533 gallons per day. The actual capacity of each bed without the treatment tank is 769 gpd (gallons per day). Thus for the 14 beds which now exist at the Lower Ball Field site, the untreated capacity is 10,766 gpd, not the 21,462 gpd stated in the (Wright-Pierce) memo. For the Dodge Field site the capacity of each bed without the (OxyPro) treatment tank is 606 gpd, not the 768 gpd stated in the memo. Thus for the Dodge Field, the untreated capacity utilizing the 18 existing beds is 10,900 gpd, not the 13,855 gpd stated (in the Wright-Pierce memo). The existence of the treatment tank increases the capacity of the beds by some value.”

“These corrected values make the solving of the overcharging of the beds, whether because of infiltration or other issues, more critical,” Sawyer said

However, in a Feb. 9 letter to Sawyer from the town manager, Berkowitz stated, “I understand the fundamentals of the two Oxy-Pro systems and that regardless of the field capacities, the two plants, in their current configuration are designed for 24,000 gallons per day. By engaging in an Inflow and Infiltration remediation program, the town expects that the flow of effluent to either field will be reduced containing our daily gallons per day to the parameters of the two Oxy-Pro systems.”

“Further,” said Berkowitz, “it is the intent of the town to install a second Oxy-Pro tank at the lower Ballfield, which will increase the daily gallons per day to 24,000, sufficient to support any redevelopment in that portion of the downtown.”

Town Manager Berkowitz explained the reported discrepancy in the sewer fields capacities, saying that Wright-Pierce used the calculations for sewer capacity used in the town’s 2007 Waste Disposal License application to the DEP.

How the appeal will be handled

It was decided that the town manager and others will begin right away to draft the formal appeal to the DEP and that it will be formally presented to Town Attorney Richard Spencer for review prior to being submitted.

Sewer Committee member Glen “Bear” Zaidman requested that members of that committee be allowed to give their input on the appeal information, specifically regarding the issues with the sewer system’s capacity levels, and the selectmen welcomed Zaidman’s suggestion.

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