UMaine violates environmental laws

By Ryan Robbins
Maine Campus staff

ORONO, Maine - The Department of Environmental Protection has found the University of Maine in violation of the law by operating a landfill without a permit and for failing to file a permit application under Maine's site location law.

The university had failed to apply for permits for construction projects covered under the law since the law took effect in 1970.

The DEP has approved a retroactive permit application from the university, subject to 45 conditions, which include closing the construction and demolition debris landfill on Hilltop, redesigning roads and parking lots, and monitoring the campus' sewer system.

The improvements to bring the university into compliance with DEP regulations will cost the university at least $1.5 million over the next 10 years - and that's a low estimate because the university has yet to determine how much work needs to be done, Facilities Management Director Anita Wihry said.

"We're not sure how we're going to fund all of this, at this point," Wihry said. "It's a fairly significant expenditure over the course of the next eight or 10 years.

"The sewer stuff is going to be fairly expensive, and there's a lot of it. But it's not going to be very obvious to people. What will be very obvious is the parking-related requirements."

The improvements will be phased in during the next 10 years.

The university never applied for permits for construction because DEP had exempted it from complying with the law, which applies to large developments, such as industrial parks and subdivisions.

"Years ago, under a previous administration, we had written the university a letter that said we were going to look at the university like a small city," DEP Environmental Specialist Jim Beyer said.

DEP reversed its decision later, but the university didn't file for permits until it received a grant from the Economic Development Administration to build a wood composite laboratory. The grant required the university to comply with all environmental laws. Wihry said the university eventually would have filed permit applications, but she wasn't sure whether it would have done so in the same time frame.

One of the most serious issues involves the university's operating a landfill on Hilltop without a permit. The university hasn't used the landfill in a couple of years, according to Facilities Management Associate Director for Engineering David Trefethen. The university has until May 1 to file an application with DEP to cap the landfill.

"We will cap whatever portion we close, but we're still hoping that some portion of it won't have to be closed," Wihry said.

DEP Environmental Specialist Cindy Darling said that other than the university's not having a permit to operate the landfill, the university didn't have wells to monitor seepage of landfill waste into groundwater.

"Based on my review of what has been disposed there, I don't expect there to be a problem," she said.

Regarding the campus' sewer system, the university will construct a monitoring station next summer between the President's House and the steam plant. The town of Orono's wastewater treatment plant is experiencing a "combined sewer overflow" problem due in part to stormwater and groundwater entering the university's sewer system, according to DEP's order dated Jan. 13, 1998. Orono treats approximately 129 million gallons of wastewater a year from the campus.

"There's a lot of stormwater that's entering the sewer system, which is causing heartburn to the treatment plant operator," Charles Kellogg from DEP's Bureau of Land and Water said.

The law requires stormwater to be separated from sewage, but some roof drains on the university's older buildings dump stormwater into the sewer system, Trefethen said. The campus' sewer pipes are also leaking, he said.

Having a monitoring system in place, though, "will be worthwhile for us, though, because it'll tell us how well or how badly we're doing with our sewers," Trefethen said.

The most visible changes that will come about as a result of DEP's findings against the university involve traffic control and parking.

"The mitigation requirements are going to have a fairly significant impact on the campus. And I think parking is going to become a major issue, even more of an issue for us than it is now," Wihry said.

The university will have to eliminate all parking spaces that require cars to back into traffic. The north side of the Field House lot will have to be reconfigured, as will spaces behind The Maples and beside Murray Hall, and the temporary spaces next to Fogler Library. Some parking lots will also require islands and stop signs. Wihry said the university doesn't know yet how many parking spaces will be lost.

"I haven't counted them up," she said. "I don't think I want to know."

Changes to parking lots won't have to completed until 2000 through 2007, depending on the severity of the safety issues involved.

In addition, the university has until Nov. 1, 2000, to decide what to do with the Squa Pan Road entrance to campus, between Alfond Arena and Crossland Alumni Center. The entrance's steep grade has been the site of numerous accidents throughout the years, prompting Public Safety to close it at the end of athletic events.

"We've got a lot of hard decisions to make in that whole area of the campus, because it's a major entrance to the campus, and it's a difficult road to reconstruct because of the ledge," Trefethen said.

Decreasing the grade would require blasting, which could damage nearby structures, he said. In addition, reducing the grade would create a canyon between Alfond and Crossland, which would make access to the Alfond parking lot difficult.

The S curve on Munson Road between Hancock and Wingate Halls is another area that needs to be altered. The university must decide whether it wants to straighten the curve by widening the road, make the road one-way or close it.

This story originally appeared in the April 1, 1998, edition of The Maine Campus.

© 1998, Ryan R. Robbins.