Town water, land purchase mollify effect on residents

Posted Nov. 13, 2009, at 9:40 p.m.

PLYMOUTH, Maine — Despite the oil and other hazardous substances that are leaching through the ground under their homes, residents of southeastern Plymouth said the nearby pollution doesn’t significantly affect their lives.

Everyone whose well was harmed by materials from the Hows Corner Superfund Site on Sawyer Road is now served by a municipal drinking water system, which among other things has led to the unusual existence of fire hydrants at the edges of forests and fields on rural dirt roads.

“No one can believe it when I tell them I’m on town water here,” said Norm Viger, who lives about 1,200 feet from the edge of the contaminated site. In addition to being a resident of the area, Viger is the operator for the Plymouth Water District, which he said serves about 55 residences in the area.

Lori Lambert, who lives just down Sawyer Road from the Superfund site, said she likes her municipal water service, especially when her electricity service fails.

“I’m happy,” she said. “I’ve had no problems with delivery.” When crews connected her house to the water main that goes past it, they filled her well with cement and pushed tiles into it.

The problem first arose in 1988 when the Maine Department of Environmental Protection discovered groundwater contamination in 10 wells near the former location of the Portland Bangor Waste Oil Co. The company, which operated from 1965 to 1980, received more than 235,000 gallons of waste oil and other liquids, an unknown amount of which was spilled.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the DEP built a public water supply system for the area in 1994. In 1995, the 17-acre parcel around the former waste oil company was labeled a Superfund site, a designation reserved for severely polluted areas.

This week, the DEP and EPA, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Maine Attorney General’s Office and all the parties who shipped oil to the site, released a document that describes the next steps in the recovery process. Essentially, the document calls for the purchase and permanent protection of a total of 750 acres in town — about 50 acres near the Plymouth Water District and 700 acres along Martin Stream in Plymouth Bog. Both parcels have been bought and the latter parcel will be managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as a natural resource and recreation area.

The agreement is subject to a 30-day comment period and approval in U.S. District Court.

At an informational meeting in April, Plymouth residents reacted with relief when they learned that the site would be open to hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and all-terrain-vehicle riding, according to an April story in the Bangor Daily News.

Guy Plummer, who lives on Small Road, said Friday that the funds being used to secure the recreational parcels could be better spent elsewhere.

“I think they ought to use that money to clean up the site,” said Plummer, who lives just up the hill from Plymouth Water District but who opted not to connect to the water main that travels past his house. Plummer said the water in his well has passed every test ever done on it.

First Selectman Wade Richardson said several people in town have voiced appreciation for the conservation area, particularly snowmobile and ATV clubs, but that not much is said about the Superfund site.

“We don’t get a lot of flack because the people out there all have water,” said Richardson.

Richardson said the Environmental Protection Agency recently scheduled a meeting for 7 p.m. on Dec. 15 at the Plymouth Grange Hall to discuss the consent decree announced this week. The public is welcome.

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