SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- With more than 6,000 lakes and ponds and roughly 32,000 miles of streams and rivers, Maine is a water rich state, but aging infrastructure and development pressures have had a negative impact on some of that valuable water resource.
In years past, when engineers were looking to build a bridge or install a culvert, the majority of the design work focused on getting vehicle traffic from one side to the other, with how fish would travel beneath the road surface being an afterthought.
"We didn't have a real good knowledge of what would allow fish passage and natural habitats to be maintained," admitted Scott Lever, chief Legal Officer with the Associated General Contractors of Maine. "To have those stream crossings functioning correctly, it is not only going to protect our roads, but it is also going to protect our natural habitats and our fisheries."
Lever is part of a broad-based coalition encouraging the Maine Legislature to pass L.D. 1455, An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Ensure Clean Water and Safe Communities. While the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs continues to work of the bill, the basic details are that the bond could be for as much as $50 million, with the money triggering a $25 million federal match.
Lever says those funds would be used to improve built infrastructure such as culverts and stream crossings, make improvements to the state's natural infrastructure through wetlands and water quality projects, and lead to upgrades and repairs to waste water treatment facilities and water mains.
He says some of the infrastructure still in use today was built more than 100 years ago. "A lot of people don't think of it, most of time you can't really see the under workings, but when you open that stuff and you have water mains starting to burst, it is a serious problem," said Lever.
His company estimates the bond could pump life into the state's economy by creating as many as 1800 jobs.
"Believe it or not, even though it is an urban stream, there is a real benefit and community amenity that is provided as a result of this stream being here," explained Fred Dillon, Storm Water Program Coordinator for South Portland's Water Resource Protection Department.
"Trout Brook is one of five urban impaired streams that the city has," he stated, as he stood on the brook's bank. "It doesn't meet water quality standards set by the state and federal governments."
The city has done some work to improve the brook's habitat for fish by moving large amount of gravel to correct its flow and provide places for fish to seek shelter from the sun. He hopes more funding will become available through this bond that will allow them to make additional repairs.
"We didn't really know that the kind of development that we did around here would have the kind of impacts that it's done," he said. "There's a whole host of strategies that we use to try to remediate some of those impacts."