AUGUSTA – The House and Senate passed a bill Friday that backers said would improve water quality in the Androscoggin, so that within 10 years it will be meeting standards for its environmental classification.

Environmentalists and Rep. Elaine Makas, D-Lewiston, have disagreed, saying the bill does little good. “It’s worthless,” Makas said.

Before the House voted on L.D. 1450 Friday, Makas made a last-ditch effort to ensure that the river has the same standards as other Class C rivers. Her amendment was defeated 100-34.

Speaking on the floor, Makas asked legislators to allow Lewiston-Auburn “to share the same Class C standards as other rivers,” and said that it would mean a great deal to her community.

She offered an example.

Like many politicians, Makas spoke at a Memorial Day service May 30 thanking veterans. “When I finished a man came over to me in uniform. He was with the 133rd, just came back from Iraq. He said, ‘Representative Makas, I want to thank you.'”

Makas said she was surprised; she hadn’t said anything special. It was she who should be thanking him, she said to the guardsman. “This is your day.”

He explained that he appreciated her efforts in “fighting for my river. I’m a kayaker,” he said. “It really matters you’re trying. The river is important to me.” Makas asked legislators to keep in mind the young soldier who just came back from Iraq, and others in Lewiston-Auburn, by voting for her amendment.

Rep. Theodore Koffman, D-Bar Harbor, spoke against the amendment, saying it would hurt the direction of the bill that his Natural Resources Committee came up with.

In the last 30 years, the Androscoggin River has undergone “enormous, astonishing” improvements, and that will continue with the legislation, Koffman said.

There is disagreement on whether the legislation meets or violates federal law.

On May 28 the Natural Resources Council of Maine filed an intent-to-sue notice with International Paper. It said it would sue IP after 60 days for violating the Clean Water Act by polluting the river, having an expired discharge license and violating the federal Clean Water Act. IP is the biggest polluter to the river, state data shows.

IP fired back June 2 in a full-page newspaper ad saying the company is leading the industry in making changes to improve water quality, is dedicated to a clean environment, and is operating with a legal pollution license.

Andrew Fisk of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said IP does have an expired license, but because the company has applied for a new license it is legal. A new pollution license will be issued to IP June 15, Fisk said.

– Bonnie Washuk

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