A number of sites at the former Naval Air Station Brunswick (now known as Brunswick Landing) are the subject of environmental remediation actions in accordance with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the national Superfund Law, for the investigation and remediation of various contaminants left by the Navy’s presence. These “Superfund” sites have been well documented and are part of an on-going restoration effort by the Navy, in coordination with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the local Restoration Advisory Board, of which MRRA is a part of. A local environmental watchdog organization: the Brunswick Area Citizens for a Safe Environment also plays a key role in this ongoing restoration program.
These “Superfund” sites must be cleaned up before they can be transferred to MRRA, the town or any other eligible recipient. Several of these remediated sites have recently been transferred to the town of Brunswick. In addition, the Navy is in the process of conducting additional environmental investigations into potential contamination sites and will undertake remediation actions, as appropriate. It is very important to note, that under the Superfund Law, the Navy has the legal responsibility to take remedial clean-up actions if any regulated contaminants are discovered that are associated with its historical activities, in perpetuity.
The major planned restoration activity in the near future is the remediation of what is known as the Picnic Pond drainage system, where the Navy will be removing contamination in the pond sediments resulting from stormwater discharges associated with the Navy’s historical activities on the former base. The Navy is planning on commencing this work in the summer of 2021, in accordance with a Record of Decision, agreed upon by the Navy, the DEP and the EPA.
This is a very interesting project, as a portion of stormwater runoff from the former base drains into the “Picnic Pond” system, which flows into Mare Brook, an Urban Impaired Stream and eventually into Harpswell Cove. This system consists of four interconnected water bodies used to channel and control stormwater drainage on the property from several natural streams. The Picnic Pond dam was built in 1954, when the sewer and stormwater systems on the base were separated. In 1997, dikes were constructed to create three other impoundment ponds. It’s been well documented that these dam systems require structural repair and upgrades.
The Navy still has ownership of the Picnic Pond system and adjacent properties. Upon completion of the remediation efforts and receipt of the requisite environmental clearances, the Navy plans to convey these properties to MRRA in accordance with our Economic Development Conveyance agreement. As part of this transaction, MRRA plans to ensure that the structural issues of the dam systems are also addressed.
When the Navy base was operational, this Picnic Pond system captured more than 80% of the stormwater discharged from the industrial portions of the base. Currently, captured stormwater to the system comes from the same area of the former base. However, the current runoff has been significantly reduced due to several factors, including, but not limited to substantially fewer airport operations and industrial activities on the property, as well as a significant reduction in impervious surfaces. In addition, since the early 2000s, potential stormwater impacts related to new development are managed and minimized through compliance with the DEP stormwater program, which is the same process employed for new development projects within in the whole town of Brunswick.
Based upon numerous environmental assessments and studies conducted by the Navy over the years, the MRRA-owned stormwater distribution system (pipes) does not appear to contain any CERCLA Contaminants of Concern. However, the Navy and MRRA continue to study for other potential contamination entering the stormwater system, including substances resulting from the historical use of fire-fighting foam products on the former base. It should be noted that the Navy has developed some innovative approaches in addressing the management and treatment of these chemicals when found in groundwater on Brunswick Landing.
The town of Brunswick is currently leading an effort to develop a plan for the Mare Brook Watershed. Mare Brook is an Urban Impaired Stream that begins and runs through the developed areas within the town of Brunswick and a portion of Brunswick Landing. MRRA actively participates in this important watershed planning effort.
Based upon the Navy’s planned clean-up of the Picnic Pond contaminants, the ongoing Mare Brook Watershed planning effort and the significant local public interest and extensive dialogue regarding the legacy stormwater management system associated with the former Navy base, we believe there is a great opportunity to develop an innovative approach to the problem that that could result in the environmental restoration of the ecological values of the Picnic Pond drainage system, as well as the potential to re-design the Brunswick Landing stormwater distribution and management systems.
In order to achieve this objective, MRRA has invited the town of Brunswick, the Maine DEP and other key local, state and federal stakeholders to be part of a task force with the mission of exploring the feasibility of and developing a long-range plan for this effort. It is envisioned that this initiative would involve several phases, all of which would require funding for both planning and implementation actions.
We believe such a unified and focused effort can demonstrate how we can work together to couple a significant economic development initiative with an innovative environmental remediation and restoration program that reflects our ultimate vision of taking an old Navy base and creating a great new place.
Steve Levesque is the executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.