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State, local officials forego lawsuit to work together to protect Great Bay Estuary

DOVER — Earlier this year, state environmental officials reached an agreement with three Seacoast cities to combine efforts to protect both tax dollars and natural resources, according to City Manager Michael Joyal.

The state Department of Environmental Services and members of the Great Bay Municipal Coalition, which includes Dover, Portsmouth and Rochester, agreed not to use the findings of the 2009 Nutrient Criteria document to set standards for stringent federal nitrogen permits.

“The criteria (were) not scientifically sound,” Joyal said, adding members of the independent review found the concerns of the DES were valid while determining there were “a number of confounding variables” overlooked in the 2009 report.

As a result, DES and the coalition reached a settlement and petitioned the state Supreme Court to dismiss the case.

As part of the agreement, Joyal said Great Bay was removed from the “impaired” list until further research could be completed or existing data could be organized. He said state and local leaders must still determine what information is already available, how it will be organized to identify gaps, who will conduct new research and how the project will be funded.

As part of an ongoing $9 million wastewater improvement project, Joyal said the city will continue to reduce nitrogen levels to 8 milligrams per liter (mg/L) within a decade. Under the previously proposed regulations, it could have cost twice as much to reduce levels to 3 mg/L.

Altogether, it could cost the five original coalition communities between $74 million to $160 million to upgrade their treatment plants and $13 million to $25 million in annual costs, which could increase user rates by 50 to 100 percent to meet the proposed discharge standards.

Under residual designation, it could cost households about $15,000 or a total of $1 to $1½ billion to treat or replace a rural septic tank, place restrictions on future development and divert local funds from other areas, said John Hall, lawyer for the Great Bay Municipal Coalition said.

For information, visit the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership’s (PREP) website at: or the EPA’s website dealing with NPDES Permits in New England: