Harpswell doesn’t want the same heavy metals that closed half of Harpswell Cove to shellfish harvesting to move farther south. The clam flats in Harpswell Cove have $100,000 worth of shellfish on the Harpswell side alone. (Photo courtesy of Paul Plummer)

HARPSWELL — Harpswell wants the Navy to protect the clam flats in Harpswell Cove as part of the Navy’s remediation plan for the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

The town argues the Navy should extend its testing to the stormwater system that brings water from ponds at the former base to Mare Brook and Harpswell Cove, where shellfish are harvested.

The network of four interconnecting ponds, known as Picnic Pond, Pond A, Pond B and Pond C, is located in the northeastern corner of the former base. The pond system was constructed with a network of ditches and drains to control stormwater drainage on the base. The drains eventually meet Mare Brook in Brunswick, which flows south into Harpswell Cove.

In 2015, an investigation of the pond system found a handful of heavy metals including lead, arsenic and cadmium. If ingested, those metals can damage the nervous system, kidneys and stomach, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

“We believe the Navy has an obligation to investigate the legacy impact of the Picnic Pond stormwater system on the adjacent marine environment,” the Harpswell Conservation Commission wrote in a letter to Paul Burgio, environmental coordinator for the closure process of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Efforts to reach Burgio for comment were unsuccessful.


“The Navy is not doing a complete remediation of the site,” said Mary Ann Nahf, chairwoman of the Harpswell Conservation Commission. “That pond has been the receptacle for a lot of heavy metals from the former air station. We don’t want to see it come creeping into the Harpswell side of the cove. If that closed, it would have a devastating impact to Harpswell.”

The northern tip of Harpswell Cove near the former air station is in Brunswick. The southern part of the cove is in Harpswell.

The Brunswick side of Harpswell Cove closed to shellfish harvesting after the Maine Department of Environmental Protection found traces of heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and arsenic in clams from the cove, according to Paul Plummer, Harpswell’s harbormaster.

“It’ll be closed for our lifetime because of heavy metals,” said Plummer. “We don’t want that sediment to extend further south into the Harpswell side of the cove.”

The Harpswell side of Harpswell Cove alone holds $100,000 worth of shellfish, according to Plummer.

In a letter to the Harpswell Select Board, Paul Ciesielski, a geologist and member of the Harpswell Conservation Commission, wrote, “The stormwater system must be evaluated and remediated first or Brunswick will inherit a pond system that continues to receive pollutants that also discharge into Harpswell Cove.”


The Navy’s proposed plan is to remove the sediment from Ponds A and B, then apply a backfill cover. If approved, the plan will cost about $3,600. The Navy does not have a plan to remediate the stormwater drainage system.

“The compartmentalization of the stormwater retention ponds from the rest of the stormwater system is inappropriate,” Carol White, technical advisor for the Brunswick Area Citizens for a Safe Environment, wrote in a letter to Burgio.

The Navy is obligated by state and federal law to clean the site before this section of the former base is handed over to Brunswick.

The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority has overseen the conversion of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station to civilian use after the base closed in September 2011. During its heyday, the base supported the Navy’s antisubmarine warfare operations in the Atlantic Ocean and employed about 5,000 people.

The redevelopment authority operates the 3,200-acre property as Brunswick Landing.

The letters from the conservation commission and Select Board were submitted during the Navy’s 30-day public comment period for the proposed plan, which ended Nov. 8. The Navy is required by law to review the letters and all other comments received during the comment period and issue written responses.

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