2012-12-07 / Front Page

Cape looks at Trout Brook

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH - Environmental experts have formulated a plan to restore the water quality of Trout Brook, an estuary to Casco Bay that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection listed as an “urban impaired stream.”

That classification means Trout Brook isn’t providing a good habitat for its wildlife, like the fish it was named for and the small invertebrates those fish eat. Runoff from asphalt, roofs and lawns in the neighborhoods near the brook in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth have contributed to the deteriorating water quality over the years.

Fred Dillon of South Portland’s Water Resources Protection department presented a plan to restore Trout Brook to the Cape Elizabeth Town Council on Monday, Dec. 3.

Dillon, Kate McDonald of the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District and Wendy Garland of the Department of Environmental Protection were the main architects of the Watershed Management Plan, a 150-page document crafted over the course of two years and funded through grant money.

For now, Dillon isn’t asking for much from the town of Cape Elizabeth to restore the brook to health. He said the majority of the waste is coming from the more densely populated neighborhoods in South Portland. Trout Brook, and its offshoot Kimball Brook, extend from Casco Bay through Mill Creek Park and into Cape Elizabeth along Ocean House Road.

Funding for the first phase of Trout Brook’s recovery have come from DEP grants that have totaled nearly $110,000 over the last two years, so there is no immediate need for municipal money.

However, Dillon said not all the money for the project can be provided by grants. At some point in the future, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth will likely be asked to contribute to cleaning up the brook. But in Cape Elizabeth, where the environmental impact is less severe, the economic impact will also be less than it will be on the other side of the town line.

McDonald said she hopes with changes in place, Trout Brook can meet state water-quality standards in 10 years. That may sound like a long way into the future, but Dillon said the brook actually has a “high restoration potential” and is relatively close to rehabilitation when compared, for example, to Long Creek in South Portland.

Some of the major threats that face Trout Brook right now, according to the plan, are stream bank erosion, inadequate natural buffers and decreased dissolved oxygen. While some work and testing will take place over years to change the chemical makeup of the stream, there are changes residents can make now to help.

Cape Elizabeth Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said some town residents, especially in densely populated neighborhoods such as State Avenue, don’t know they’re impacting the stream in their backyard.

“People think they’re doing the right thing and landscape right down to the edge,” O’Meara said.

When that happens, lawn fertilizer and pesticides can run into the stream and affect the water quality. “Yardscaping,” which McDonald said encourages property owners to avoid environmentally harmful products and to install vegetated buffers, can greatly help the health of streams like Trout Brook.

There are two farms in Cape Elizabeth near Trout Brook, Maxwell’s Farm on Spurwink Avenue and Down Home Farm across the road on Harvest Lane. Dillon said the Cape farms practice environmentally sound agricultural practices and have been cooperative in the Trout Brook restoration process.

Nick Tammaro, owner of Down Home Farm, said he would be happy to help in the process as long as it doesn’t upset the everyday operations of the farm.

“We’re willing, but we’re concerned that we will still be able to do what we have done for years,” Tammaro said.

Town Council Chairman Jim Walsh said the council will formulate a plan to bring an endorsement of the Trout Brook Watershed Management Plan in front of the council at an official meeting. The planned action won’t allocate any funds, but will ideally increase public awareness and give the plan’s architects what Dillon called a “thumbs up and a pat on the back” from the town.

The plan will likely go in front of the South Portland City Council at its workshop on Monday, Dec. 17. Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Michael McGovern said he would be in touch with South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey to make sure the two coordinate any public action to approve the plan.

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