Environmentalists turn out to talk with EPA and NH DES before meeting with Seacoast leadersBy KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent
February 06. 2018 11:31PM
DOVER — Officials from Dover, Portsmouth and Rochester met with the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Services to discuss the challenges they would face if they were required to comply with stricter nitrogen limits for wastewater discharged into Great Bay.
The meeting of about 25 people was described as a “closed-door, nonpublic meeting.” Reporters and members of the public were not allowed into the meeting room at the McConnell Center, which was being guarded by a police officer.
Great Bay is the state’s largest estuary and its watershed drains 42 municipalities in New Hampshire and 10 in Maine.
Melissa Paly, a waterkeeper for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the cities complaining about the cost of complying with stricter nitrogen limits should recognize that clean waterways drive business and attract people to their communities.
“These are choices we have to make,” Paly said. “If we try to roll back, we’re going to lose this system. We were here to demonstrate to the EPA that there are people all over this region that want to keep the bay clean.”
Gayle Wells, of Kittery, Maine, was outside the McConnell Center holding a sign. She said the wastewater decisions officials in Rochester, Dover and Portsmouth make affect her.
“All of these waterways are connected,” Wells said. “Great Bay has been suffering for some time. We can’t go backward.”
According to the National Estuarine Research Reserve Association, research performed by the Great Bay Reserve and the University of New Hampshire over the course of four years showed the estuary is experiencing low dissolved oxygen levels, eelgrass loss and is impaired by elevated nitrogen.
Researchers explained that all types of human development contribute to nitrogen in streams. Canine detection indicated that human waste was present in six of seven urban streams and two of three suburban streams sampled.
Paly said Rochester, Dover and Portsmouth taxpayers have already spent millions of dollars on wastewater treatment and are on the right path, but they wanted to make sure environmental officials keep city leaders on the right path.
“It took us decades to get here, it will take us decades to get where we want to be,” Paly said of cleaning up Great Bay.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, weighed in on the issue in a statement.
“These Great Bay communities face the challenge of ensuring that their already scarce municipal resources are expended appropriately,” Shaheen said. “These towns have made great strides in implementing best practices to protect the Great Bay. The Great Bay is one of New Hampshire’s greatest treasures and ensuring its continued health and vitality are of the utmost importance to our state and to the communities around the Bay. I’m confident that we can find a way forward that meets conservation goals and is fiscally feasible for these communities.”