Bar Harbor Infrastructure Needs Are A Ticking Time Bomb

Town Looks To Help Water Logged Residents

BAR HARBOR—Beneath the surface of Bar Harbor’s roads is an aging infrastructure of water and sewer lines that are most likely in need of grave repairs.

“We’re a ticking time bomb,” Town Manager Kevin Sutherland said Wednesday.

That was made all too apparent right before July 4 this year when West Street had standing water in the street. It turned out that there was a leaking pipe, which had to be fixed prior to winter. This has necessitated a recent shutdown.

But it’s not just West Street where there are issues. Residents of Atlantic Avenue have been facing water line issue for about three years. Standing water is often in the street, and the street becomes ice-covered during colder months.

Sutherland and Public Works Director Bethany Leavitt spoke to David Einhorn, an Atlantic Avenue resident during Manager: Minutes at the Jesup Memorial Library on November 9, part of a series of casual interactions between Sutherland and the public that are happening almost every other week. Each interaction is centered around a theme, but often strays to topics attendees want to discuss. Wednesday’s theme was town infrastructure.

Infrastructure might not be the sexiest of words, but the buildings and facilities including sewer, water, and utilities are a main part of what the town provides to residents.

Because of the tourists and summer residents who visit Bar Harbor every year, the town supports more than the 5,000 residents. According to the town’s Existing Conditions Analysis Report, released in October,

“Major investment is needed on Bar Harbor’s municipal infrastructure. This includes a recent bond for updating the wastewater collection system, stormwater and water systems. However, this will not address all capacity limitations or future demands. Approximately 5% of Bar Harbor’s population is served by sewer infrastructure and 16% of the town is served by water infrastructure.”

Protecting the watershed of Eagle Lake is also important. The drinking water of Bar Harbor has a Filtration Avoidance status with the Environmental Protection Agency, which could rescind that waiver. If that happened, the town would have to create a new filtration system.

But it’s also issues like Atlantic Avenue where water was infiltrating a sewer pipe four or so years ago, Sutherland said. When the town repaired that pipe, the surface water went somewhere else rather than escaping through the hole in the pipe.

That somewhere else was a basement in an Atlantic Avenue residence. That resident has to pump water out of his house almost daily.

“When there’s a rainfall, there’s a river running across my property. We’ve all been very patient. We feel very badly for the party who has been pumping their basement for years now,” Einhorn said.

Sutherland and Leavitt have been working with Atlantic Avenue residents since March. The latest plan to fix the situation involved easements across ten properties on Hancock Lane, Atlantic Ave and Devilstone Way, but that plan may have hit a roadblock via the Department of Environmental Protection Leavitt said.

To deal with the potential issues, Sutherland wants to collect data and have data-driven decision making to find out what’s going on in the pipes under the surface.

“Emergencies are always going to take priority,” Sutherland said, “But I hate to be in the position where we’re only reacting to emergencies.”

Resident Ellen Grover of Glen Mary Ave said she had water and sewer line worries about smaller neighborhoods throughout town as well as Bar Harbor proper.

“We have a very old, old infrastructure on the sewer and water side,” Sutherland said.

“They ignored it for so long,” Grover said.

WEST STREET GATEWAY PROJECT

Sutherland also spoke about the West Street Gateway Project where the pump station is having difficulty keeping up with the serious, high-rain storms which are creating overflow into Frenchman Bay.  The Maine Department of Environmental Projection licenses the town. Bar Harbor’s system’s has had a hard time keeping up with the more serious storms, Sutherland said.

The town will create a holding tank to prevent this overflow and release from happening and possibly working with Maine DOT to reconfigure the intersection of Eden Street and West Street at the same time. Simultaneous projects would reduce disruption and possibly overall costs, so Sutherland said he’s always looking for those opportunities.

“We’ve been in constant contact with the DOT about doing something different at the intersection in the next couple of years,” Sutherland said.

The costs for dealing with the pump station are estimated at between $8-9 million.  In June, voters approved a $43.9 million sewer and water bond to upgrade the sewer and water in town. Part of that money is also for a streetscape project on Cottage Street, which was designed in 2017. Cost increases to the people’s water and sewer bills would occur when the bond is repaid and would likely begin to take effect in 2023.

OTHER ISSUES

Water and sewer lines are just one part of the town’s infrastructure issues which are detailed in the Existing Conditions Report. With 30 employees, the Public Works Department, run by Leavitt, is the largest municipal department.  It is charged with maintaining and improving roads, the three wastewater treatment facilities, 13 pump stations, solid waste transfer station, recycling facility, parks and cemeteries, as well as sidewalks. Much of its needs are for data collection to plan and manage assets.

The Conners Emerson School is currently undergoing a revisioning process for a potential future build. The police department may also be looking to build a new station according to the report.

POLICE DEPARTMENT

The police department, according to the report, also has increased needs. It has multiple vehicles, which all must have new equipment installed such as a cage, antenna, console, computer docks and siren control when the vehicle is first used. The vehicles have life expectancies of four years. Other equipment, according to the report, last eight (or two vehicle rotations). That includes things like radar, gun racks, light bars, defibrillator units, and video systems.

Currently the department has “six patrol cruisers, a parking enforcement vehicle, a heavy duty truck for the harbormaster, a port security boat, and a smaller harbormaster’s work boat. The department also has a scooter, two storage trailers, and three speed trailers.” Each year they drive about 133,000 miles total.

From the Existing Conditions Report. Apologies for the page break line.

DEBT AND LACK OF SUPPORT

Needs and improvements to town infrastructure often create debt, which is detailed below.

Because of those debt-to-valuation formulas, managing projects can be a balancing act for town’s like Bar Harbor that need improvement, but those needs are especially interesting in Bar Harbor because of tourism. During the Wednesday gathering, Grover expressed concern about how Bar Harbor is a town of just around 5,000 year-round population, but must support the influx of so many tourists. She stressed that tourism brings a lot of money to the state and the numbers of tourists coming to Bar Harbor compared to other communities is astounding.

“We have no support” like a local option tax or a lodging tax, she said. Still the town has to provide services and its infrastructure is effected enormously. “We have to provide so much more.”      

“As a town, we need to be asking the state for more help” since Bar Harbor is the major destination, she said. “We shouldn’t have to personally bear the responsibility” for all the tourists.

Last Tuesday at the council’s goals setting and visioning workshop, that theme came up quite a bit, Sutherland said. He said in one year, there was $230 million in sales tax for the state of Maine that originated in Bar Harbor.

“How much of it came back to us?” Sutherland asked the people at the meeting.

“$100,000.”

“$30 million.”

“I have no idea.”

Sutherland said the town received $3 million in school support and just under a million for town support, which is a 5% return on investment.

However, there is hope that through grant applications to federal and state agencies the town will receive more support especially for dire situations.

“Where there’s real need that’s where we’re going to be able to look at real funding” outside of the town’s ability to pay for, Sutherland said.


Bar Harbor’s Comprehensive Plan documents

Bar Harbor’s Existing Conditions Report


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