Friday, February 5, 2010

Cooperative clean-up

The story of the agreement to clean up Long Creek in South Portland is a fascinating one. It's long since ceased being any sort of real river, of course, since its neighbors are the Maine Mall, the jetport, the Turnpike, lots of offices and factories - in other words, typically developed America with lots of "impervious surfaces." When it rains, all the pollutants from our comfortable lives (oil and grease and heavy metals and God knows what else lies on all those hard surfaces) are washed away, into the sewer that is Long Creek. (I must say that the phrase "impervious surfaces" is as frightening as it is colorful; if we had its opposite, "permeable surfaces," would everything be OK?) Stormwater and run-off have become the modern creek.

The creek has long been on Maine's list of "urban impaired streams" (once again I applaud modern phrase-makers), and local landowners have been working together, slowly, to try to fix the problems. Two years ago the Conservation Law Foundation goosed the process a bit and appealed for action by the EPA, who indeed has now acted. Long Creek by federal law must now be cleaned, but the basis of the law is the agreement among landowners in the first place to assess themselves at $3,000 an acre. It's a wonderful example of the private (landowners, concerned volunteers) and public (local, state and federal) sectors working together. Would that the politicians and the bankers and the multi-nationals and other supremely selfish entities could do likewise. Just once.

It's also one of the few instances in New England where a mall and its like are agreed to be polluters. Certain of us have thought so for a long time, however more along the lines of visual, emotional and spiritual pollution. It's unfortunately been impossible to prosecute ugliness. Until we get an Emotional Protection Agency, the regular EPA will have to do.

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