Wells may be contaminated

TREMONT — Contaminated wells are costing the town money and the fix recommended by the state would be a major expense for taxpayers.

“We have installed six [water filtration] systems at the town’s expense in the last year,” Town Manager Chris Saunders said in an interview. “There’s just not good water in the area.”

Those water filtration systems are one solution to the problem with contaminated water that has plagued the town for a decade. Another option, recommended by Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials in 2013, is switching to a public water supply.

Last month, a new landowner on Flat Iron Road asked selectmen if the town could test her well water for possible contamination.

In 2008, the DEP tested 14 private wells in the neighborhood of Flat Iron Road and Harbor Drive. At the time, the agency was investigating possible leaching from the landfill that had been closed since 1996.

Eight of those 14 wells showed levels of manganese, iron and arsenic that exceeded recommended levels. In 2013, the town began providing affected residents and businesses with bottled water.

The DEP’s Maine Landfill Closure and Remediation Program helped the town with the cost of the bottled water program until 2016. After that, the town opted to install water filtration systems in the affected residences and businesses.

A water filtration system was installed at the Town Office within the last month and came with a price tag of approximately $12,000, Saunders said.

Tremont’s town office was built in 2006. The well that serves the building was one of a group of private wells tested in 2013, according to Saunders. Before the filtration system was installed, employees opted not to drink the water.

The closed landfill located across the parking lot has been a source of contamination in private homes in the past, but Saunders says it was not clear whether it is the source of contaminants this time around.

“It was impossible to pinpoint with 100 percent confidence what the source of contamination is,” Saunders told the Islander.

A water sample from the well of the new landowner on Flat Iron Road was sent to Northeast Laboratories at the end of July, according to Saunders. He reported to selectmen Monday that the results from that test were received but had not been opened.

If the test results show contaminants found in the landfill are the contributing factor, they will be forwarded to the DEP, Saunders said. More tests could be required.

Qualifying test results receive 90 percent funding reimbursement from the DEP’s remediation program for water filtration systems. When contaminants were found in the Town Office water supply, the state determined it did not qualify for remediation funding.

“It’s 90 percent of what the state determines is eligible,” said Saunders. “Last year we spent roughly $30,000 on landfill remediation (filtration systems) and were reimbursed $17,000. The state program only reimburses for landfill contamination.”

In the early months of 2017, the DEP concluded that the town’s storage of salt and its use on winter roads was contributing to the contamination of area wells. Effluent from private septic systems in the same area was also listed as a contributing factor, according to the DEP report.

“All of these could explain why the water is not good,” said Saunders.

When findings regarding salt storage and usage were reported, the DEP said the town would be liable for correcting the problem.

Cost of the water filtration systems depends on several factors, including level of use, water quality and the size of the system. Small systems can cost as much as $5,000. The town is committed to maintaining the systems, Saunders said.

“This is something that is going to continue to be a major topic,” said Saunders.

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

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

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