PUC gets Lake Auburn watershed complaint

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AUBURN — Fourteen residents have filed a complaint with the Maine Public Utilities Commission aimed at the Lake Auburn Watershed Protection Commission and its policies of buying land around the lake and putting limits on development.

Dan Bilodeau, who lives within the Lake Auburn watershed, and 13 others filed their complaint against the Auburn Water District on May 13.

PUC spokeswoman Evelyn deFrees said the commission was investigating the complaint. A response from the Auburn Water District is due by Friday.

“There are reviews going on as to whether a full investigation needs to be opened,” deFrees said. “Once the utility responds, information goes back to the commission and staff will investigate and review the complaint and the response and investigate what next steps can be taken.”

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John Storer, superintendent of the Auburn Water District, said his utility’s response was being delivered Thursday night.

Bilodeau said a second complaint, lodged against the Lewiston Water Department, would be filed Friday. 

The Lewiston and Auburn complaints are functionally the same, but are being signed by different groups. The Auburn complaint was signed by Bilodeau and 13 other Auburn residents. It includes City Councilors Mike Farrell, Dan Herrick, Ray Berube and Belinda Gerry, former councilors Ron Potvin, Bob Mennealy and Donna Lyons Rowell, former Auburn School Committee member Jason Pawlina and residents Joan Godbout, Leroy Walker Sr., Stephen Martelli, George Matthews and Dan Poisson.

Bilodeau said the Lewiston complaint was being coordinated by Lewiston resident Doug Stone, of 8 Bridge St. Stone could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The watershed commission was formed 18 years ago, created by the Auburn Water District and the Lewiston Water Department to protect the lake’s water quality. 

Through the commission, the Twin Cities’ water utilities pay to protect the land around the lake and the tributaries that feed it. It’s also worked with the city of Auburn to create development rules around the lake and use rules for the lake water.

The cities were granted a federal waiver in 1991, deeming Lake Auburn’s water clean enough to avoid having to filter its water.

Bilodeau’s complaint argues that the costs associated with keeping that filtration waiver may be higher than Auburn residents and water district ratepayers are willing to pay.

“I’m saying (the watershed commission has) gone beyond water quality, to protecting the trees and the ecosystem — things that are not necessary for clean water,” Bilodeau said. “You have the water going into the intake, then the water beyond that that gets diluted before it gets to the intake and that’s what they’re doing. They are going above and beyond what they need to do to protect the water quality.”

For example, the city requires septic systems around Lake Auburn to be buried in at least 36 inches of undisturbed topsoil. That makes building septic systems too expensive and development around the lake too difficult, Bilodeau said.

“If that is required to maintain the waiver of filtration, then the money lost by property owners or for the city for lost taxes, or any kind of loss should be accounted for properly,” Bilodeau said. “And if the state comes down and says that is not required for the waiver of filtration, then that restriction can go away.”

Bilodeau said his biggest motivation is to get information about the watershed made public.

“I’m hoping the PUC will have some authority to do something,” he said. “At least, in the bottom line of it, at least it’s out there for discussion, compromise and maybe the management at the watershed will see the issues and work to correct them.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

Lake Auburn Watershed Complaint

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