ROCKPORT — Camden is demanding $146,452.72 in sewer bill payments from Rockport, with a deadline of May 2. If that is not met, Camden said it will file a claim of unjust enrichment in the Knox County District Court.
The letter spelling out the terms was sent March 28 by Camden Town Manager Audra Caler to Rockport Town Manager Jon Duke, two miles away. The letter was a follow-up to decisions made March 22 by the Camden Select Board to recover payment from Rockport.
Additionally, the March 28 letter encouraged Rockport to go its own way with its own wastewater treatment facility, and expected a plan for doing so.
“Within 90 days of the date of this letter, please present a plan to the Town of Camden demonstrating how Rockport will remove all wastewater flow from Rockport to the Town of Camden,” wrote Caler.
That was later qualified in the letter with a possible extension, if a written request were submitted by Rockport to Camden, and “provided the Town of Rockport continues to pay what the town of Camden has billed Rockport for wastewater treatment services in full.”
Furthermore, Camden said: “If the Town of Rockport does not produce and present this plan at the end of 90 days, or an agreed upon extension date, the Town of Camden will shut off the flow of wastewater from the Town of Rockport to Camden.”
Caler also noted that Camden would not accept additional wastewater from Rockport produced by expansions to the Rockport sewer system.
But, her letter ended with an option:
Camden would extend the terns of its 1990 interlocal sewer agreement with Rockport for “an interim period beyond the four-year deadline,” provided that Rockport pays its wastewater rate billed by Camden.
“We understand Rockport wants to grow, and the Town of Camden has no desire to hinder these plans,” the letter said. “However, the cost of this growth cannot be at the expense of the Town of Camden. Therefore, we hope both towns can see this as an opportunity. It is clear the values of the two towns no longer align regarding this circumstance.”
Rockport has been disputing its bills from Camden, which lead to this current impasse.
Rockport’s Select Board, acting as the town’s wastewater commissioners, met Monday evening in executive session, but no motions were made following their exit from that closed door meeting, and the town had no comment on Camden’s March 28 letter for repayment.
“Rockport remains disappointed that the Town of Camden has not yet agreed to meet to discuss the obvious issues before us and we believe the proper course of action is to meet and talk through these concerns, one by one, as the inter-local agreement suggests,” said Rockport Town Manager Jon Duke, April 12.
The Rockport board named Denise Munger and Mark Kelley as representatives to the administering committee, as established in the interlocal agreement governing the sewer arrangement with Camden.
On the same day that Caler had sent the letter to Rockport, demanding payment or face court charges of unjust compensation, the Town of Rockport had issued a public letter to Camden, saying, “Rockport wants to have an open dialog to set the record straight, however, it is hard to have these long-term planning conversations when the dialog begins with ‘take it or leave it,’ let alone retain a desire to work with a municipality actively working against the well- being of their neighbor.”
In a March 22 letter to Camden Town Manager Audra Caler, Rockport Town Manager Jon Duke said that after watching the recording of the Camden Select Board’s March 21 meeting, his town requested a meeting of the sewer system’s Administering Committee.
Camden and Rockport are sister towns, albeit not always on the best of terms, as evidenced from the sewer disagreement, and the legal battle two years ago concerning Rockport’s $1.5 million overpayment of school district tax bills.
Camden once incorporated Rockport, but was split into the two municipal entities in 1891 following disagreement, even “sectional virulence,” as described by Reuel Robinson in his 1907 History of Camden and Rockport, among its leadership and citizenry.
The interlocal sewer agreement dates back to 1989. Camden and Rockport share an elementary school and high school district, share a police chief, an assessor and occasionally other town staff. They work together on a public utility with Hope and Lincolnville on the Mid-Coast Transfer Station, and more recently created another public utility, the Midcoast Internet Development Corporation.
They are longtime first responder mutual aid partners with police and fire, and the two towns resemble almost as one in the bigger world.
For a span of more than a decade, the two select boards met regularly to plan for regional projects, and to talk about their unique governmental relationship.
Now, however, that relationship is fraying, even as leadership attempts to compartmentalize issues, such as the sewer bills, from working arrangements that have been in place for a century, or more.
Meanwhile, the Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection has informed Camden to be aware of state statute that prohibits the discharge of pollutants to Maine waters, and warned against any responsibly of Rockport wastewater escaping its system.
The DEP said it is hopeful that Camden and Rockport reach a mutually agreeable solution.
“As we discussed, it is important that you are aware that Maine prohibits any person from directly or indirectly discharging or causing the discharge of pollutants to waters of the state without a license. 38 M.R.S. § 413(1) (“No person may directly or indirectly discharge or cause to be discharged any pollutant without first obtaining a license therefor from the department.”),” wrote Brian Kavanah, director of the DEP’s Burea of Water Quality.
“Accordingly, if the current dispute between the Towns were to result in an overflow (unlicensed discharge) from Rockport’s sewer system, it would be within the Department’s discretion to consider bringing an enforcement action pursuant to 38 M.R.S. §§ 347-A and 349 against any party directly or indirectly responsible for the overflow,” he wrote.
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