Cumberland Farms expansion plan hits snag in Gray

Engineer Chris Tymula discusses the planned rebuild and expansion of the Cumberland Farms in Gray Village. 

GRAY — A proposal to rebuild and expand the Cumberland Farms in Gray Village has run into an unexpected complication over stormwater drainage, although if Tuesday’s council workshop was any indication, that could be water under the bridge.

Despite concerns about the impact on Gray’s town stormwater system, council members indicated tentative support for Cumberland Farm’s plan to link up directly with that system. The plans may come back to the council for discussion after a risk assesment by town staff, and still need Planning Board approval before being finalized. 

Despite previously signing off on a contract zone agreement with Cumberland Farms to proceed with the project, the Town Council held a workshop on Tuesday, Aug. 8, to discuss how the company’s plans for stormwater drainage compare to past practices and could impact the town’s overall stormwater infrastructure.

The plan calls for Cumberland Farms to connect and pump its stormwater directly into the town’s public stormwater pipe system – a move that the town has not previously allowed commercial operations to do and one that some worry could add extra stress to the system. Public Works Director Steve LaValle says the stormwater system already could be close to failing.

Community Development Director Doug Webster said that Cumberland Farms stormwater plan was not immediately clear when the council initially signed off on the CZA – nor would it normally be at that point in the process. According to Webster, specific stormwater details are usually handled during the Planning Board’s separate review of a CZA.

Webster said that there may have been a “professional misunderstanding” between town staff and Cumberland Farms representatives.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and it’s understandable” that a project of this complexity could have a miscommunication like this, Webster added.

Cumberland Farms representatives said at the workshop Tuesday that the company was under the impression that the pumping arrangement would be OK after discussions with staff at a on May 24.

Cumberland Farms lawyer Sandra Guay said that three of the company’s representatives, based on conversations that had with town  officials, “walked out of there believing that (the connection to the town stormwater system) was OK at that time.”

“I’m certainly not going to get into a he-said, she-said …  it doesn’t matter,” Guay continued. “The purpose of bringing it up is because, had Cumberland Farms been aware at that time that there was that issue, everything would have come to a stop right then.”

She also said that they appreciated the town working with them toward some sort of resolution.

When the stormwater plan became clear in the early stages of the Planning Board process, Webster said he made the unusual recommendation to bring the issue back to the council because giving a private business access to the public stormwater system would be unprecedented for the town.

Webster provided a list of possible paths forward for the stormwater issue in a memo for the workshop. Several of those possible paths were alternatives to the Cumberland Farms plan to connect to the public system, which the company representatives said weren’t workable.

Cumberland Farms project engineer Chris Tymula of MHF Design Consultants based in New Hampshire said a direct pipe connection is the only feasible option because the property sits over a sand aquifer and because the gas station will have to separate oil runoff from its stormwater system.

While several people in attendance indicated that it was rare for towns or the state to allow businesses to connect to public stormwater systems, Tymula said tha Cumberland Farms is doing so at locations in Lewiston, Sanford, and Wells.

Tymula also said that Cumberland Farms was prepared to add additional safeguards to the system, including an emergency shut-off valve.

Town Engineer Will Haskell said that he didn’t “have a whole lot to disagree with” about Tymula’s points and that the additional information makes sense from a stormwater treatment perspective. But he did express concern about the impact the increased stormwater volume would have on the town system.

“The one thing that is still concerning to me given my knowledge of the town of Gray and the knowledge that I have of the stormwater system … is the age and condition of stormwater system,” Haskell said.

Several councilors also said they had the same concerns, but the ultimate consensus was that Cumberland Farm’s plan, particularly with the additional safety measures proposed, would be a safer and more desirable arrangement than the stormwater runoff at the existing Cumberland Farms location.

The tentative message from councilors present was that, pending a risk analysis from town planning staff, they are inclined to support the Cumberland Farms request to connect to the stormwater system in this one particular instance. The issue also launched a discussion amongst councilors and town staff about the need to address the concerns about the public stormwater system.

Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher said that she sees this proposed design to be a “safer” stormwater plan for the site than the current system.

“I’m hesitant, but I’m leaning more towards letting them tie in,” Gallagher said.

“We do have a system that’s failing, that is obvious,” said Councilor Jason Wilson. “Realistically, if we’re going to do a tie-in to the system, I would want to get more input from the engineers… I think we just make some conditions that it’s (only for) a contract zone.”

“We have a failing infrastructure … We’ve got a well-designed system that wants to tie into a system that’s failing,” said Councilor Bruce Foshay. “So this kind of pushes us over into the discussion about our long term plans for this village.”

“Cumberland Farms is in a way kind of forcing us to get our act together on this plan,” said Foshay.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Engineer Chris Tymula discusses the planned rebuild and expansion of the Cumberland Farms in Gray Village.