January 18, 2022

Test shows district can handle sewage> Supermax expansion would increase flow

WARREN — Preliminary modeling from St. George River water tests indicates the Warren Sanitary District could handle the extra sewage flow from a planned expansion of the Supermax prison — up to the plant’s licensed discharge limit.

But the modeling is not final, state Environmental Protection Commissioner Martha Kirkpatrick said Wednesday.

Kirkpatrick said there is more modeling to be done. It should be completed by the middle of next week.

The preliminary modeling shows that the Warren Sanitary District is not causing the low levels of dissolved oxygen found in the river, she said.

Both Warren and neighboring Thomaston will be affected by the final decision on where the prison effluent will be processed. Thomaston has an appeal of the Supermax site permit pending.

Thomaston, site of the Maine State Prison, moved its plant off the waterfront several years ago and built a $12 million lagoon system to clean up the river and to accommodate the flow from the prison. The Thomaston prison is scheduled to close in 2001 and Thomaston will be stuck with an oversized plant.

The Warren Sanitary District has been in a similar situation since its plant was built. The Warren plant was constructed when the Supermax was planned as a 500-bed facility, but it ended up with just 100 beds so its plant has been operating below capacity.

Waste-water treatment plants run most efficiently when operated at their designed capacity, according to plant officials from both towns.

As the river is being studied, Department of Environmental Protection staffers met privately Wednesday with Corrections Department officials, presumably to talk about the problem.

Kirkpatrick defended the closed meeting, saying it is often done with other state agencies.

She said a meeting for people with a stake in the issue is planned for mid-January.

Thomaston also is faced with some money woes when the Corrections Department closes the Maine State Prison.

When the expensive lagoon system was built in Thomaston, the state agreed to pay $184,000 per year until its share of debt service is paid and to pay $100,000 per year to the town for operating costs. The state has said it would continue to pay for the debt service.

Warren Sanitary District officials did not attend Wednesday’s closed meeting, said Edmund LaFlamme, sanitary district executive director.

“I’m very pleased DEP is coming up with the preliminary results that we had hoped for,” LaFlamme said.

The Warren plant is licensed to discharge up to 151,000 gallons of treated effluent per day but is dumping 60,000 to 70,000 gallons per day, LaFlamme said.

The Supermax expansion now could cost considerably more, Warden Jeffrey Merrill said Wednesday. Merrill said that because of bids coming in higher than anticipated for other state agencies and schools, the Supermax project could cost as much as $85 million, although no definite figures are yet available.

The size of the project has been scaled back to coincide with the amount of sewage the Warren plant is licensed to discharge, Merrill said. He did not have the latest figures available on the number of beds. The original plan called for an expansion of more than 1,000 beds.

There has been speculation the prison would expand more later, requiring an increase in the Warren plant’s licensed discharge limit.

Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson does not think there will be additional construction phases, Kirkpatrick said. However, if there were to be further growth the increased flow would be addressed, she said.

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