2013-05-10 / Front Page

City preps for next project

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – After finishing a major combined sewer overflow construction project in Knightville last year, the city of South Portland now has its sights set on the Thornton Heights and Pleasantdale neighborhoods.

The city’s water resource protection department is in the planning stages of a sewer separation project in the two neighborhoods that could span two years. The Pleasantdale neighborhood includes the streets off Broadway to the west of the Casco Bay Bridge. Thornton Heights, on the west side of the city, is bracketed by Main Street and Broadway.

Brad Weeks, senior engineer for the water resource protection department, said there will be no work done in the area in 2013, but he wants to inform the community of the city’s plans early before construction crews start digging.

About 50 neighborhood residents attended a public information meeting at the South Portland Community Center on May 1 to learn about the city’s plans.

Weeks said the process will start with a preliminary design report, in which engineering firm Sebago Technics will evaluate the area to specify the exact work that needs to be done and provide a cost estimate. The project will likely go out to bid next spring, before the first phase of construction is scheduled in 2014 in Thornton Heights. The project will be split up, Weeks said, so the next stage in Pleasantdale will likely start the following year.

The scope of the project will be similar to the work completed in the Knightville neighborhood in 2012. Crews will dig underground to separate the city’s stormwater pipes from the sewer system, therefore preventing “combined sewer overflow,” which occurs when wastewater and stormwater come to the surface and flow into water sources during heavy rainstorms.

Dan Riley, an engineer for Sebago Technics, and Fred Dillon, stormwater program coordinator for the city, explained the benefits of the project to residents at Wednesday’s meeting. Dillon said the separation will preserve the health of water sources such as Casco Bay, Long Creek and Trout Brook, whose water quality is impaired when contaminants from asphalt, shingled roofs, fertilized lawns or wastewater run in.

Riley said the project will also present a long-term benefit to the city because it will cut down on stormwater that runs through the sewer system, through the wastewater treatment facility and gets pumped into the Fore River.

The water resource department’s work will be combined with utility updates from Unitil and the Portland Water District to make sure construction crews will only have to go into the area once.

The city will also be involved to update bike paths, sidewalks and streetlights in the neighborhoods. That work became the focus of the Knightville project when the city’s redesign and traffic flow plans drew a wedge between residents and business owners.

Thornton Heights and Pleasantdale residents questioned Weeks at the meeting about which streets would be affected by the work, how long the project would take, and how the project would be funded, but Weeks said almost everyone recognized there was a need for work to be done.

“We’re very early on in the process. It sounded like people were receptive to the project, but like everybody, they’d like the project to be over,” Weeks said.

Funding for the project will come from resident sewer use fees. Weeks said over the next 10 years, the water resources department has slated $13 million for combined sewer overflow projects, but the exact cost of the project will. dependo n the engineer’s design plan. The city’s portion of the project to improve the sidewalks, install streetlights and make the area more pedestrian-friendly will be funded by taxpayers.

Tex Haeuser, South Portland’s planning and development director, said the Portland Area Comprehensive Transit System (PACTS), a federally funded planning organization in greater Portland, may also be able to contribute to the project.

Next year, Haeuser said PACTS will fund the extension of a multi-use pedestrian path on Main Street from Cash Corner to the Veterans Memorial Bridge access point. He said PACTS and the city are working to get additional funding to continue that path along Main Street to the Scarborough line, past Thornton Heights.

“We have a feeling that there’s potential in Thornton Heights, and that it deserves some investment on the part of the city if possible to tap that potential,” Haeuser said.

For now, Thornton Heights ishighway oriented,” Haeuser said. While that may not attract businesses to the neighborhood, it is good news for drivers in the heavily traveled area.

Weeks said the wide lanes on Main Street should help keep traffic flowing relatively easily through the area with “minimal disruptions,” avoiding the delays and detours that frustrated visitors to the Knightville area in summer and fall 2012.

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