AUBURN — A series of changes to relatively new ordinance language regarding phosphorus controls, development and septic system designs in the Lake Auburn watershed received a favorable recommendation from the Planning Board on Tuesday.

Now the changes will go back to the City Council for deliberation, public hearings and eventual votes.

Among the highlights of the proposed changes is a more specific plan for conducting inspections of existing septic systems in Auburn’s portion of the watershed.

Ordinance changes that were approved under the previous council stipulated that all existing septic systems in the watershed would require inspection over the next five years, and that any new system installed would have to comply with a new design standard.

The language under proposal now would adopt a map and schedule for conducting those inspections, with areas prioritized over five different years. Systems closest to the lake are scheduled for inspection in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Other changes under consideration include specifies phosphorus control standards for single family homes, including limits on the total developable area. According to staff, the total disturbed or cleared area for a lot must be less than 15,000 square feet, and the total impervious area can’t be more than 7,500 square feet.


Eric Cousens, deputy director of planning and permitting, said that combined with changes made last year that stipulate no new homes could be built in the agricultural zone in the watershed, the further limits on lot clearing bring the total developable area in the watershed down to 150 acres from 1,180.

The max buildout, according to Cousens, is 38 new homes.

The new round of ordinance language was spurred by the City Council at the start of its term in January. The council directed city staff to form a watershed stakeholder group to review the ordinances implemented last year and recommend any changes.

The group, made up of members of the city’s agriculture and sustainability working groups, the Lake Auburn Watershed Protection Commission, the Planning Board and public, met several times over the spring.

John Blais, deputy director of planning and permitting, said the bulk of the ordinance changes will make implementation and enforcement easier on staff.

“This is basically rolling out some of the things that were already written,” he said, including the septic system inspection process.


Blais said that given Lake Auburn is the drinking water source for both Auburn and Lewiston, the Maine Drinking Water Program reviewed last year’s ordinance changes, and they will review this round as well.

During public comment, one resident said the septic inspections are an added cost that could hurt property owners. Another resident urged officials to pay attention to what water quality specialists are saying — including during last week’s Androscoggin River Watershed Council conference — about how climate change and phosphorus are impacting Maine’s lakes.

Jay Bishop told the Planning Board that he and his wife moved to the watershed to get out of the city.

“Now I see a financial burden that’s going to be put on us that’ll make it so we have to move out of the watershed,” he said. ”

Bishop said while he agrees “things need to be done,” it’s relatively unknown how much damage septic systems are doing. He said the city and/or watershed should concentrate on restoring vegetative buffers.

Blais said the changes “drill a little further” on low-impact development standards. He told the board that he rejected a phosphorus control plan on Tuesday because the application failed to address certain requirements.


“We want to make sure it’s clear for people,” he said, as well as make it less time consuming for staff. “We’re trying to make it easier for staff and a person trying to develop. At the same time, we’re trying to look at the protections we need to have and be good stewards of the land.”

Board member Tim DeRoche, who was the only member to vote against a favorable recommendation, said he’s concerned that the city could “overstep our bounds” with property owners in terms of what they can do with their properties, and regulations that may be more than is needed.

Responding to the concern about the cost of septic inspections, Cousens said the city doesn’t know how many systems it will find that will need to be replaced. He said the city “at some point may be looking for grants to help replace systems.”

During last week’s City Council meeting, councilors disagreed about the process used to get to this point, but ended up voting 4-3 to send the issue to the Planning Board.

Councilor Steve Milks argued that the council was sending the proposed language to the Planning Board before councilors had a chance to look it over, and that the council was relinquishing its power to set policy.

“We’re just going to let workgroups decide policy and we’ll just pass it?” he said.


Milks attempted to table the issue, which initially passed, but the council voted to reconsider, and then ultimately sent the proposal to the Planning Board.

Mayor Jeff Harmon, who railed against council processes during the previous term, said after the council receives the Planning Board recommendation, it will come back to the council for a workshop and then two readings.

“There’s nothing in this process that’s eliminating the ability of the council to act,” he said. “It actually provides a more open ability for the public to respond after the Planning Board reviews it.”

Milks argued that he would’ve rather seen a report from the workgroup prior to the official council process. He said because he supported the initial ordinance last term, “I’d like to know whether I even want to waste the Planning Board’s time.”

“I’d like for them to explain to me why the need for changes,” he said.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.