MECHANIC FALLS – The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has ordered town crews to stop piling snow beside the Little Androscoggin River or face steep fines.

The state received three complaints last week about the snow piles falling into the river. A state investigator followed up the complaints and issued a written warning.

On Friday, Town Manager John Hawley vowed to end the practice. He also began searching for a new place to put the snow as winter hangs on.

“I don’t know where we’ll put it, yet.” Hawley said.

For years, road crews have piled snow in three downtown spots: behind the American Legion Hall, in a parking lot off Water Street and in Maise Keene Park.

State law regulates snow dumps, which include lots of dirt and road chemicals. Rules include a ban on dumps within 100 feet of a river or stream.

Though the snow was not intentionally pushed into the river, two of the town’s three dumps are within the setback, Hawley said.

“It’s been piled there for as long as I remember,” said Hawley, who was unaware of the 100-foot rule. “We always hoped it was all right. We knew some snow was falling.”

As long as the town stops dumping in behind the Legion Hall or in the Water Street lot – the two places within the setback – the state has agreed to levy no fine.

The town will have to spend some money, though.

“I understand the need to protect the river’s ecosystem. Unfortunately, the taxpayers will feel the impact due to the need to now haul snow further distances,” Hawley said.

Snow removal has never been included in town budgets.

Next year, Hawley guessed that the cost for moving the snow will hit $15,000. The work would force the snow to be hauled greater distances, adding expense in the form of truck maintenance, fuel and labor.

It will also force more cuts in a proposed municipal budget that had been slated to fall by $270 in the coming year.

In this budget year, the effects could be worse.

Town employees – including Hawley and police Chief Jeffrey Goss – have taken pay cuts to meet a shortfall.

The costs of continued dumping could be worse, though. State penalties can be $2,500 per day for each day of violation, Hawley said.

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