In a major victory for clean water, Portsmouth voted last week to fund major upgrades to its Peirce Island wastewater treatment plant – a facility that has been polluting the Piscataqua River for far too long. This vote comes on the heels of important local votes in Exeter to approve a $49.5 million bond for a new sewage treatment plant, as well as local ordinances to reduce pollution from fertilizers, and signals strong momentum for cleaning up our local waters and protecting the Great Bay estuary.
The Peirce Island wastewater treatment plant is one of only a handful across the nation operating with the most basic level of treatment – so-called “primary” treatment. A decade ago, CLF played an essential role getting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finally require the facility to upgrade to secondary treatment, to reduce its pollution impact. In the years since, the City has been engaged in planning and design, as well as considering alternative locations, to comply with that requirement.
Because of the project’s complexity, it became evident that the City could not meet the May 2017 deadline for completing construction of the upgraded facility. CLF, EPA, and the N.H. Department of Environmental Services recently reached an agreement with the City’s staff to extend the City’s construction deadline to December 2019. Importantly, to mitigate the impacts of this delay, the agreement includes commitments by the City to reduce nitrogen pollution from the facility’s discharge, to retrofit one or more sites in Portsmouth to reduce stormwater pollution, and to fund activities aimed at restoring and protecting the health of the Great Bay estuary.
Last week, the Portsmouth City Council considered both critical questions – whether to bond $83 million for the project, and whether to approve the agreement and the commitments it contains. Thankfully, in a show of commitment to clean water, the City Council voted overwhelmingly “yes” on both questions (8-1 for the bonding, 8-0 to approve the agreement).
Cleaning up pollution from the antiquated Peirce Island wastewater treatment plant has been a focal point of concern for CLF for years. Both the approval of the bond to build the new plant, and the settlement agreement, are welcome news, showing we’re on the right path toward a clean Piscataqua River and a healthy Great Bay estuary.