Allen “Snap” Willey stands outside the water treatment facility at 89 Long Pond Road in Southwest Harbor. There are plans to name the building after Willey, who has worked for the town for 38 years. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

Water treatment plant to be named for ‘Snap’

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Recalling his first day at work for the town 38 years ago is easy for Allen “Snap” Willey because it closely followed the birth of his first child.

“She was born on Friday night, and I started work on Monday; that’s how I know how long I’ve been here,” said Willey, 63, who began working for the town’s highway department in 1980. “I’ve seen a lot of town managers come and go. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go.”

At a Board of Selectmen meeting on May 22, Willey was presented with a certificate of appreciation from the town for his years of service. There are plans to name the building at 89 Long Pond Road in honor of Willey as well, according to Steve Kenney, Southwest Harbor Water and Sewer District manager.

“I keep calling it mine,” said Willey from inside the water treatment facility that was built in 1996-97. “I’ve been here since the first tree was cut. After 20 years, can’t you say that?”

It was two years after being hired by the town when Willey moved to the water district. Two years later, he was made superintendent and remained in that position until a bout with lung cancer slowed him down in 2015.

“Steve worries about me because I push myself,” Willey said of Kenney. “That’s the way I am, I’m a worker … . Some people say I just don’t know enough to slow up.”

Three weeks after having part of his lung removed in surgery, Willey was back at work for a few hours a day. Even when he isn’t at one of the town’s facilities, Willey receives calls from contractors, builders, cleaning companies and folks wanting to “dig safe.” All are looking for information about, or help with, the town’s water lines.

“This job isn’t for everybody,” Willey said, adding that the district has been looking for employees. “Working for the public is quite demanding. You’ve got to have patience.

“Everybody tells me I’m a friendly person. I don’t get shook up,” he said.

Willey has lived in Southwest Harbor with his wife for the last three decades. “Something happens, you can’t do nothing about it except fix it.”

His dedication to the town and the job has cost Willey time with his family over the years. He missed celebrating many Christmases and birthdays with this three children.

“Your customers come first, that’s the thing,” he said, sitting next to a hard hat with “Snap” painted on the front. “I’ve slept here many nights. If there’s a problem, and you finally get it fixed, you don’t dare to leave.”

Kenney took over as manager of the newly formed district in 2016 and has relied heavily on Willey over the last two years. His institutional knowledge of the town’s water pipes and work done through almost four decades is difficult to match, even with the town’s records.

“They don’t know how I remember it, but you do after awhile,” said Willey, who always carries a camera in his truck. “I guess it gets in your blood.”

When he began work as the head of the water department, he was stationed in an office within the pump station located on the Southwest Harbor end of Long Pond. He remembers a seasonal visitor asking, “They actually pay you to work here?”

In those days, it wasn’t out of the norm to return a wayward hiker to the other side of the mountain or a canoe that had gone adrift to the other side of the pond, he said. And then there was the time a truck went into open water after driving onto ice in the dark.

That pump station building, more than 120-years-old, was a small place for an office and two employees. They shared the space with a 1953 GM diesel pump, Willey said. “She was loud; you had to babysit it.”

Despite the noise, cramped quarters and an annual leak in the floor, Willey still misses his office there and a few other aspects of days gone by.

Since the town installed water meters on the outside of people’s houses versus inside, Willey doesn’t get to connect with residents as much as he once did.

“You saved a lot of time, but some people like to have you come in and sit down,” he said, adding there was often a plate of freshly baked cookies for the visit. “You still miss sometimes talking to the people.

“When I first started, we had two tanks, the old one that leaks and the other one,” he said, referring to holding tanks located on Freeman Ridge Road.

Once, during a power outage, those holding tanks were not getting water. Of 350 gallons (per tank), only about 7 feet of water remained to serve the town, he said.

“You don’t get much sleep in times like that,” he said, explaining the only way to get to the tanks was via a dirt road. “If you had a four-wheel-drive, you didn’t care about, you could get up there. Otherwise, you took Wesley Ave.”

Willey struggles with doing too much physical work these days because of his health issues.

“I can’t get in a ditch anymore, I’d like to, but I can’t,” he said. He spends some of his time with the town training younger members of the crew.

As the town prepares to do some major work on its water and sewer infrastructure, Willey understands what is in store.

“They’re fixing stuff that needs to be done. It’s costing more now not to,” he said, admitting few towns have such great water. “You ain’t gonna find a better supply than what we got.”

As he wrapped up a short day at the water treatment plant, Willey was heading home to repair a Slip N Slide for his 3-year-old grandson, who says his grandpa can fix anything.




Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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