Climate change will harm Maine’s coastal infrastructure without renovation, EPA chief says

Maine’s coastal infrastructure faces unprecedented danger from rising sea levels, the top environmental official in President Joe Biden’s administration said Monday during a visit to Saco.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan’s visit to the City of York County Wastewater Treatment Plant came as it faces significant flood risk due to the effects of climate change.

The current facility is not equipped to handle sea level rise from the nearby Saco River, especially during heavy rain or snow. The calamity could happen if the facility was overloaded and had to shut down, said Howard Carter, the director of the sewage treatment facility. It could even close nearby beaches.

A $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill passed late last year includes nearly $70 million going to Maine communities in 2022 and more arriving in subsequent years. Part of this money will be used to build a new wastewater treatment facility in Saco.

Regan’s visit to Saco highlights the ramifications of upgrading the city’s infrastructure, as well as that of other coastal Maine communities, amid the debilitating effect of climate change. More than two-thirds of voters passed a referendum for the city to borrow $50 million in bonds to upgrade the facility in November.

Saco’s facility serves more than 12,000 residents and nearly 400 businesses. Yet many people don’t know where their local wastewater treatment facility is until something goes wrong, said Carter, who also said facilities are often referred to as “buried assets” within their communities.

Federal and state aid comes amid concerns as sea levels continue to rise. Locals have already had a glimpse of what it might look like. In December 2019, a combination of melting snow, heavy rains and a high tide caused water to overflow at the plant.

Howard Carter, director of the Saco Wastewater Treatment Facility, speaks after a visit from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan. Credit: David Marino Jr./BDN

“It’s pretty easy to imagine a recipe for financial and environmental disaster,” Carter said.

Regan, hosted by U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree, toured the facility first, asking Carter several questions along the way.

Afterwards, he noted that many New England communities had infrastructure that was over a century old. He said the federal funds would enable communities like Saco and others to be “resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

“The risk of raw sewage overflowing into the Saco River is a threat to the community,” Regan said.

Moreover, the various risks brought by climate change will only be increased by the new greenhouse gas emissions that cause a warmer planet in the first place. Regan said the administration is also prioritizing reducing them, but it is possible to tackle the worst effects of climate change in the meantime.

“His eyes are also focused on resilience,” Regan said of Biden. “And what we have to do to live with some of the things we’re seeing right now.”

Saco’s mayor and city manager attended the event, as did several members of the state legislature, including Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford.

Fecteau said the climate crisis could put Maine’s entire economy at risk, from the impact on its beaches to the potential loss of the many services provided by the Saco plant as well as other processing facilities. sewage in Maine.

“We have a unique opportunity to take control of our future,” Fecteau said.

Teresa H. Sadler