TREMONT — Water filtration systems in homes and businesses installed here by the town will continue to be maintained with town funds, despite a possible price tag of thousands more dollars than anticipated.
The town installed the filtration systems after contaminants were found in area wells. A program from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is covering some, but not all, of the cost.
Selectmen voted unanimously Monday to pay all maintenance costs for water filtration systems installed by the town, which could exceed $10,000 per year. With the vote, they agreed the town would cover five systems installed within the last two years and two others installed prior to former Town Manager Dana Reed’s tenure. Previous to the vote, maintenance of the latter two systems had not been the responsibility of the town.
What prompted the discussion was a much higher water use rate, and therefore a much higher maintenance cost, at Hansen’s Outpost store.
Town Manager Chris Saunders said he wanted to give selectmen an opportunity to cap maintenance coverage offered by the town, if they chose to do so. But after hearing from the business owner, they chose not to create such a cap.
Norm Hansen bought McKinley Market two years ago. At that time, the town was in the midst of installing several water filtration systems for residents and businesses affected by contaminated wells.
The filtration system was installed after Hansen took over the business, but engineers had estimated the store’s water use based on the activity at McKinley Market. Either Hansen’s Outpost is running a much more successful business or the estimated use was grossly off, or both.
Based on current use at the business, the town will end up paying 50 times the amount to maintain the water filtration system than originally anticipated. Original estimated costs were expected to be less than $100 for the year. An estimated cost, based on current use, is expected to be closer to $5,000.
“They didn’t even have a system in,” Hansen told selectmen. “I had no idea … we were going to use any more than anyone else.”
Estimated use for the business, according to engineers at Norlen’s Water Treatment of Orrington, was 12 40-pound bags of salt per year for the reverse osmosis water filtrations systems.
“You’re using 612,” Selectman Jamie Thurlow said to Hansen.
Thurlow’s number was based on an estimated average of current use, anticipating a slight decrease outside of peak season, put together by Town Manager Chris Saunders.
“I don’t know who came up with 12 bags, but it’s not even feasible,” said Hansen.
“We don’t really know if it’s a change in use at all,” selectman Mike Mansolilli said. “I would say the town should be paying for this 100 percent.”
Water filtration systems were installed over the last several years in Tremont in response to contaminants found in area wells. Tests conducted by the state’s DEP over the last five years have shown different contaminants from different sources.
A group of wells were tested in 2008 in the neighborhood of Harbor Drive and Flat Iron Road because possible ground contamination from the closed landfill was suspected. Located across from the Town Office in Tremont, the landfill has been closed since 1996.
Those tests showed higher than recommended levels of arsenic, manganese and iron in the water.
Funds from a state program for landfill remediation are available to towns for installation of water filtration systems and maintenance of those systems. Tests conducted in 2016 by the DEP showed salt and effluent from private septic systems as additional contaminants in area wells.
At that time, the DEP recommended the town consider moving to a public water source in order to alleviate issues of contamination going forward. According to Saunders, the state has been reluctant to offer further financial aid to the town for filtration systems, outside of those qualifying for the landfill remediation program, because their recommendation has not been heeded.
Recently a new business owner on Flat Iron Road requested his well be tested by the town. Results from that test have been passed on to the state for further review.
It is unclear if more properties will come forward for testing in the future. What is also unclear is how much annual maintenance costs will actually be for the water filtration systems already installed. For now, the town is continuing to take responsibility for these costs, as they had previously stated.
“I would say we’re on the hook for this,” select board chairman Kevin Buck said.