Great Falls roars from spring runoff in this aerial photo taken April 30, 2019. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

LEWISTON — The City Council gave its initial blessing this week for local organizations to pursue an upgrade of the Androscoggin River’s water classification.

While most councilors were supportive of a resolution that would urge state regulators to shift the river’s classification from C to B, some concern remained over the potential cost.

Peter Rubins, chairman of Grow L+A’s river working group, told officials Tuesday that the upgrade could significantly change the image of the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Rubins said his work for years has focused on the health and public perception of the river, because at one time it was considered among the most polluted in the country. Now, he said, it consistently meets Class B standards set by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

“Profound changes have occurred over the last 50 years since the passage of the Clean Water Act,” he told the council, adding that the river has met the standards since 2010. “I think a lot of image comes from people that have lived here for many years remember when it was basically an open sewer.

But, he said the DEP has argued in previous years that the lower Androscoggin can’t be upgraded because of discharges tied to dam licenses. The two primary measures used by the DEP to determine a classification are oxygen and bacteria levels.


Rubins said proposals must be submitted to the DEP by March 30, and that a coalition of eight river organizations have been working on the details.

He argues that an upgraded classification will boost the area’s image, and “protect the gains” of millions of dollars worth of sewer stormwater projects.

He said the classification is designed to be “goal-based,” meaning that if the river meets Class B criteria most of the time, it should be upgraded in order to ensure the river continues to meet the standards.

While there is support from city officials for the move, staff said it could have some impact on the city’s work to eliminate stormwater discharges. While the overall costs are unknown, staff said it could result in more requirements from the state.

Public Works Director Dale Doughty told the council that through the years, Lewiston has cut down on its stormwater overflow points from 32 to eight. He said the city spends roughly $2 million each year on combined sewer overflow projects, and that through the DEP, it agrees to a five-year plan regarding stormwater.

“Our expectations on (combined sewer overflow) separations might be accelerated, and there’s a cost with that,” he said. “It’s hard for us to know what the impact will be, but there will be an impact.”


Councilor Zack Pettengill said he didn’t agree with “fear-based management” concerning potential costs, and believes the city should support the reclassification.

“This is a big deal, and we should be supporting this in our community,” he said.

City Administrator Ed Barrett said city staff is not recommending against the upgrade, but feels an obligation to inform elected officials about the potential costs.

Councilor Lee Clement said he remembers a time when you could “smell the stench” of the river, and believes the city should be supporting the upgrade.

Councilor Stephanie Gelinas said that while she kayaks on the river regularly, and supports efforts to clean up the river, she is “apprehensive” about supporting an upgrade that could lead to more costs.

Officials said they would take a little more time to go over the details before signing on the proposal. It was unclear whether the council would be voting on a resolve at its March 17 meeting.

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