Allowing municipalities to dump snow directly into rivers and streams, or to store it near them, is a very bad idea that was abandoned years ago for good reason.
But a bill, submitted by Rep. Sheryl Briggs, D-Mexico, now seeks to exempt municipalities from waste discharge licensing requirements that have been in existence for decades.
Briggs is executive secretary for the town of Mexico and says she submitted the bill at the request of the Maine Municipal Association and Mexico Town Manager John Madigan. Gov. Paul LePage also has targeted the snow-removal regulations.
For her part, Briggs says she simply wanted to start a "thoughtful conversation" between town officials and environmental groups on the best way to remove snow.
"It's very important to not do anything that would jeopardize our environment,"she told the Sun Journal in an e-mail.
We couldn't agree more. Our rivers, streams and coastlines are cleaner than they have been in a century. Sport fishing is once again thriving along the length of the Androscoggin River.
But removing regulations on municipal snow dumps would be a step backward.
Madigan says he doubts the science behind the snow-dumping rules, pointing out that driving diesel trucks to more distant locations also pollutes the environment.
But George Belanger, who works for the Lewiston Public Works Department, is not a doubter.
He is proud of the snow containment built by city workers along River Road in the city's outdoor Operations Center.
The snow dump is actually a large containment pond with a clay liner. City crews are now working 18 hours a day to remove snow mounds from city streets.
Belanger is working on one of the crews and knows firsthand that much more than snow is trucked to the snow dump.
He says there are chemicals, cigarette butts, ground-up garbage cans, bottles, dog feces and garbage buried in the snow. And that is in addition to tons of sand, salt and dirt.
The dump on River Road is so large that the snow will not melt until summer.
When the snow is gone, the debris will be revealed, usually about 200 cubic yards that must be hauled away. That's enough to fill about 11 dump trucks. Belanger says he has seen everything from car parts to furniture.
Years ago, the city had two sites where it simply unloaded snow into the river. And for years, dump trucks full of waste and sediment went with it.
Belanger said he grew up near the Little Canada neighborhood and remembers trying to fish in a river that smelled bad and had foam floating on its surface.
Now he marvels to see eagles and sportsmen fishing the river, and he is proud Lewiston helps keep the river clean.
The state's regulations are not onerous or unreasonable. They prohibit dumping snow directly into lakes, rivers and coastal bays. They require that snow be stored away from bodies of water and put in containments or surrounded by silt barriers.
When the snow melts, the material left behind must be cleaned up.
Lifting the rules will not create jobs or attract businesses to Maine. In fact, it may do the opposite.
Cutting red tape is one thing. Putting garbage in rivers, lakes and streams is another, and we should all oppose it.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.