Maine LD 2160, An Act To Protect Shellfish Waters and Shellfish Resources from Coastal Pollution (Title 38 MRSA § 424-A), includes statutes outlining the abatement pro- cedure for malfunctioning domestic wastewater disposal units and the coordination between the DMR and munici- palities in addressing illicit discharges in shellfish harvest- ing areas. An additional provision requires an inspection for any area where high bacteria scores are believed to be caused by malfunctioning systems.
The law also contains provisions for when shoreland property is bought or sold (Title 30-A MRSA § 4216): A person purchasing property with a subsurface wastewater disposal system in a coastal shoreland area must have the system inspected by a person certified by the DHHS prior to purchase, unless the system is less than three years old, has been inspected by a certified inspector within three years, or will be replaced within one year of purchase. Municipalities may want to expand this requirement to other systems within the beach watershed, or require that older systems are inspected at least once to ensure compli- ance with Maine’s Subsurface Wastewater Disposal Rules.
Other local, state, and/or federal departments may have authority over certain aspects of illicit discharges; therefore, coordination and communication are helpful. Municipalities may want to consider a regional approach to addressing illicit discharges within shared watersheds.
What happens after a violation is identified?
According to Maine law, a malfunctioning subsurface wastewater disposal system is considered to be a nuisance that threatens public welfare. If a malfunction is docu- mented, it is the responsibility of municipal officers (i.e., LPI) to order an abatement of the nuisance (Title 30-A MRSA § 3428).
The local LPI, code enforcement officer, or building inspector is responsible for enforcing laws and ordinances, and also can issue penalties and represent the municipal- ity in District Court (Title 30-A MRSA § 4452).
In addition to the LPI, the local public health officer may issue an abatement order based on a complaint of pollution. A malfunctioning subsurface wastewater disposal system falls under the broad scope of situations
Eliminating Identified Problems
that adversely affect public health and safety (i.e., miscel- laneous nuisance). DEP and DHHS also have jurisdiction to enforce abatement orders (Title 38 MRSA § 424-A).
Once the responsible party has been identified, a letter with a notice of violation is issued. Local jurisdictions have primary responsibility for enforcement (Title 30-A MRSA § 4214). The letter should specify all documented issues and the expected timeframe for remediating the problem. The notice of violation should describe the viola- tion and the law or ordinance provision violated, describe required corrective actions, and impose deadlines.
In situations where voluntary compliance is not real- ized in a timely manner, more aggressive enforcement measures including abatement orders, penalties, and court cases may be necessary to resolve the problem. The choice of enforcement tools depends on the type and vol- ume of discharge, the nature of the pollution, the respon- siveness of the property owner, etc. Resource managers should use judgment in using the right mix of compliance assistance and enforcement.
What resources and funding are available to help fix problems?
Limited funding and resources exist to assist municipali- ties, individuals, or nonprofit organizations in addressing sources of fecal contamination. Support is available from the following programs for a range of activities. Keep in mind that grants and available funding change from year to year, and new opportunities emerge.
Maine State Housing Authority Home Repair Program offers low- or no-interest loans to qualified homeown- ers for home repair, including septic system repair and replacement.
Maine DEP Small Community Grants Program may help replace malfunctioning septic systems that are polluting water bodies or causing a public nuisance. Depending upon the income of the property owners and the property’s use, this program may fund from 25% to 100% of design and construction costs. The Overboard Discharge (OBD) Removal Grant Program provides fund- ing to remove licensed discharges. To qualify, the OBD must be legally licensed by the DEP, and OBDs affecting shellfish growing areas are given higher funding priority.