BOOTHBAY, Maine (NEWS CENTER)-- People in Boothbay are waiting to find out if one of their town’s biggest construction projects will keep going. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens---which has become one of Maine’s prime tourist attractions--already has major parts of the $30 million project underway. But the project continues to be opposed by a determined group of local residents, including the Gardens’ closest neighbors.
Construction on the expansion began last winter, with acres of trees being cut to make way for large new parking areas, a new visitor center and significantly more space for gardens. But it ran into opposition from the Anthony family, whose home is the only one that is close to the new parking area. The Anthony’s told NEWS CENTER last winter the project threatens their own drinking water, and that runoff from the large parking area threatens to pollute Knickerbocker Lake, part of the Boothbay Water District’s water supply.
As a result of the opposition, the Botanical Gardens changed the outlet for treated effluent from its wastewater system to send it in a different direction, toward what’s known locally as the Back River. Boothbay Water District General Manager Jon Ziegra said Tuesday that move was an important step, but he said there is still a real risk of increased phosphorus in Knickerbocker Lake, which he says would cause algae blooms and other water quality problem, increasing the cost of treatment.
“Knickerbocker Lake is already fairly high in phosphorus, its a lake that’s I wouldn’t say sick but doesn’t need any more sources of contaminants in it,” said Ziegra. He said he is convinced the expansion will increase phosphorus runoff and lake pollution.
Gardens’ CEO Bill Cullina said the opponents are wrong. He insists there will be no impact on lake water quality. Gardens’ staff have said the “permeable pavement” system being installed in the new parking areas will absorb water into the ground to minimize runoff. Cullina said the water district’s worries are unfounded.
“I think it’s a case of both not understanding the science not understanding what we’re doing but I think the bigger issue is the change in the community,” he said.
At the Water District, Ziegra said he disagrees. “That’s their opinion and we have ours,” he said. “We backed it up with science and people who really know the business.”
Cullina, in turn, dismissed the idea of the Water District having opinions based on science.
“They don’t have scientists,” he said. “They have consultants they hire but you can find a consultant to say anything.”
That kind of disagreement has also played out over the past few months in advertisements in local newspapers, as both sides have used large advertisements to spread their very different messages. Those ads clearly seek to influence local opinion on the project, but may also have a more specific target: the Boothbay Board of Appeals. Opponents have challenged the town’s permits for the Botanical Gardens expansion, and the Appeals Board could rule this month whether to allow or revoke the permit, or possibly make changes to it.
An Appeals Board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday night. The town’s code office said a decision isn’t likely at that meeting but said the board may meet again later in the month.