ROCKLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The biggest public park in Rockland has been closed for more than a month because of pollution. But it turns out the cause was not what city officials first thought.
Snow Marine Park was closed for all uses except the boat launch because of very high levels of E. coli bacteria in the water. The bacteria were found as a result of water tests of two pipes emptying into the harbor near the boat launch.
The city suspected the problem was dog waste, so they closed the park for clean up. Snow Marine Park is a large, open field and marsh area, and has been a popular spot for dog owners to let their pets run.
Terry Pinto, Rockland Pollution Control Director, says dog waste contains more bacteria than human waste contains, - so it can easily contribute to pollution. He says city crews cleaned up about "100 piles" of dog waste, and then treated the ground in the park to neutralize bacteria.
Water in a test pit showed minimal bacteria after that.
But the city also discovered that three houses across the street from the park had their sewer lines connected to the storm sewer that drains into the harbor. That meant raw sewage was going directly into the water. The problem, says Pinto, had been there for sixty years or more and no one knew it.
Repair crews have been installing a new sewer line to fix the problem with the houses, and also connect another nearby building into the sewer. Pinto says that should eliminate the E Coli. He also said it may be a symptom of wider problems with Rockland's aging sewer system, parts of which are a century old. Pinto said the city has started a full evaluation of all the pipes, using video cameras to look for leaks or bad connections.
Pinto said many other communities in Maine face similar issues with aging sewer systems.
As for the park, he said with the sewer problem fixed and all the dog waste cleaned up, the city should be able to reopen the park soon.
Interim city manager Tom Luttrell said once they have acceptable E Coli tests, he will reopen the park.
Dogs, however, may face a longer wait. Luttrell said the City Council will have to make that decision, and could prohibit dogs from May through October, which is done in several other Rockland parks and playgrounds.
Luttrell said there has been talk in the past of creating an actual dog park, but says it has never come up for a council vote.