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Lewiston Mayor calls for moratorium on development near Lake Auburn

Lake Auburn at sunset on August 28, 2016.
Lake Auburn at sunset on August 28, 2016.

In a press conference at city hall Thursday, Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said that Lake Auburn's high water quality isn't just a badge of pride, it also saves Lewiston and Auburn money. That's because the lake has a filtration waiver from the Department of Environmental Protection, which reduces treatment costs. But Sheline said the Auburn City Council's recent approval to rezone nearly 150 acres near the lake to allow development would likely degrade water quality to the point where the sister cities would have to install an attrition plant costing millions of dollars.

"The best and cheapest option is to maintain water quality in Lake Auburn," Sheline said.

He wants the Auburn Water District and the Lake Auburn Watershed protection Commission to block development until a study is done on the effects it would have on water quality. But Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said there already is a study, issued last fall by environmental consulting firms and the University of Maine. He said the city has done its due diligence, and development will actually help Lake Auburn.

"We have gone above and beyond what any other municipality," Levesque said. "Why? Because we realize that smart development is necessary. But we also realize it has the ability to make the lake cleaner."

Levesque said better septic systems will be required in any new development, which will control runoff and therefore improve Lake Auburn's water quality. While the study does say homes could be built if septic systems meet certain standards, it also explicitly states, "we find found no net environmental, economic, or social benefit supporting expansion of development in the Lake Auburn watershed." And one of the key findings in the study states that Auburn should not ease current zoning protections in the watershed or rezone portions for increased density.

The superintendent of the Auburn Water District, Sid Hazelton, says its board will consider Lewiston Mayor Sheline's request to block development at its next meeting in April.