May 26, 2019

Newport plans to apply for lake cleanup funding

NEWPORT — The next episode in the ongoing saga of Newport’s efforts to clean up Sebasticook Lake begins Friday. An application will be filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection in search of federal Environmental Protection Agency money to correct 74 identified erosion sites.

A Sebasticook Lake watershed survey, completed by volunteers in 1998, identified locations where runoff contributes to the lake’s phosphorus and algae content. The sites include runoff from public and private roads, trails, residential, commercial and agricultural property.

In the 1970s, the DEP began a restoration project at the lake to remove a variety of contaminants from industrial, agricultural and septic waste fed into the lake by its many tributaries. The goal was to reduce the influx of algae-feeding phosphorus and ease the annual algae bloom that covered the lake with green scum each summer.

The installation of waste treatment plants upstream and the containment of agricultural runoff was coupled with an annual drawdown to flush phosphorus from the lake.

“The quality of Sebasticook Lake has been slowly but consistently improving since its restoration plan began,” according to the report recently prepared for the Sebasticook Lake Association by Michelle Gagnon from the Penobscot Valley Council of Government. The phosphorus content of the lake is 50 percent to 60 percent less than it was before the work began.

That percentage just isn’t enough if the DEP is going to achieve its goals of a cleaner, clearer and healthier lake to accommodate its many uses.

Despite the removal of the targeted contaminants, heavy precipitation and runoff still contribute to the algae bloom, as well as reduced clarity and oxygen in the lake. A $5,000 grant from DEP and EPA helped the association plan, coordinate and compile the survey identifying erosion around the lake.

With the next round, the group is looking for an additional $20,000 to $50,000 in grant money to implement the plans recommended in the survey. Fifty percent of the lake’s watershed area is in Newport. That area will be the primary target for the next project, according to SLA President Lynn Cianchette.

To stimulate voluntary participation to correct the erosion sites, the members of the association decided to “take care of our own back yard first,” she said.

Cianchette and Gagnon stressed the survey was completed by volunteers, involved voluntary participation by landowners and will extend to voluntary corrections. The survey had nearly 100 percent participation.

“This is not an enforcement action,” Gagnon said Tuesday. “We want this to be nonthreatening so people want to participate.”

The project will include a number of workshops to provide training for people in the watershed communities to reduce erosion and runoff. These could include public road crews, contractors, and road maintenance associations, as well as lakeside residents and others near the lake’s contributing streams. Training could include discussion on nonphosphorus fertilizers and effective landscaping.

Two local hardware stores have agreed to carry the nonphosphorus fertilizers, Cianchette said.

“Too much fertilizer going into the lake doesn’t help us,” she said, adding that information also will be available for people to plant vegetative buffers to reduce runoff.

Volunteer conservation crews will be created to handled some of the larger erosion problems. Science students from Nokomis Regional High School who participated in the survey process also are expected to help with the erosion mitigation. Demonstration projects will be established at different sites.

“Everyone has been very, very supportive,” Cianchette said, also citing town officials for their assistance.

“We’ve got an excellent project,” said Gagnon. “I don’t think we’ve missed a thing. But it’s the education that will be more important — more than demonstration projects.”

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