AUGUSTA – A bill to further clean up the Androscoggin River is expected to be opposed by the Maine Pulp and Paper Association at today’s public hearing.

L.D. 99 is sponsored by Rep. Elaine Makas, D-Lewiston, who last year opposed a law that allowed more pollution in the Androscoggin than other Class C rivers.

It’s not OK for the Androscoggin “to be a second-class river,” Makas said. “There are four river classifications, AA, A, B and C. Class C is the lowest, and the Androscoggin’s not even meeting that lowest.”

If passed, her bill would result in 30 percent less pollution going into the river, she said.

Makas said she doesn’t want to see any millworker lose a job, but there needs to be recognition “that the river is shared resource.” The mills, as well as new community economic development along the river, should both benefit from the Androscoggin, she said.

The Maine Pulp and Paper Association will oppose the bill, its president said Tuesday.

Last year, the mills compromised and agreed to make some improvement in water quality, and the mills are doing that, John Williams said.

“The impact of this bill is the mills would have to spend more, and I’m not sure that would improve the water quality,” Williams said. L.D. 99 would cost the four mills that discharge into the Androscoggin tens of millions of dollars, he said. Williams disagreed that it would result in a 30 percent reduction in pollution.

Part of the problem, Williams said, “is the river’s dammed.” The Gulf Island Pond dam reduces oxygen in the river and causes poorer water quality because the river’s flow is slowed.

But according to the Department of Environmental Protection, most of the pollution in the Androscoggin comes from the paper mills.

The three big sources that dirty the water are phosphorus, which creates algae blooms and depletes oxygen; organic waste, that rots and depletes oxygen; and suspended solids, which smothers bottom-dwelling life. DEP data shows 77 percent of phosphorus in the river comes from the mills, as does 83 percent or organic waste and 35 percent of suspended solids.

On Tuesday, Gov. John Baldacci said he wants the Androscoggin to be cleaner and has ordered mill officials, community leaders and environmentalists to work together to figure out how.

“The goal is to make the river cleaner than it is today,” Baldacci said. “There have been significant improvements, but we need to keep pushing towards cleaner improvements.”

Baldacci said he gave the group a deadline of June 15 to agree how the river should be cleaner, and how long it will take. Working together is better than passing individual legislation, Baldacci said.

A report released Tuesday by Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Dawn Gallagher found that all paper mills are no longer discharging dioxins into Maine’s environment. That finding “is a wonderful example of what we can do working together with environmental agencies, the pulp and paper industry and citizens,” Baldacci said.

Makas said she’s pleased the governor wants a cleaner Androscoggin, but is not withdrawing her bill. She wants it passed or carried over to next year to ensure action is taken.

The hearing is one of five before the Natural Resources Committee, and will take place in Room 214 in the State Office Building.

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