PATTEN, Maine — State officials said Thursday that their latest project to protect the town’s water supply is going so well, there will be enough money to replace two additional residential heating fuel tanks.
The Department of Environmental Protection, working closely with the town and the Maine Rural Water Association, began overseeing a project in September to replace 30 heating oil tanks in the wellhead protection area of the Patten Water Department.
“Things have gone so well that we have the money to install two more tanks than we originally thought,” Peter Moulton, DEP environmental engineer, said Thursday. “So now we will be installing 32 tanks. We have already installed 25, so we have seven left to go.”
The antiquated, rusty and unstable oil tanks are substandard, according Moulton and need to be replaced in order to better protect the community’s drinking water, which comes from a well maintained by the water department.
The project has been relatively trouble-free, he added. On Wednesday, the tank at the Patten Historical Society was replaced, and by Thursday, 25 homeowners had new heating oil tanks.
Crews encountered one home where they could not get the new tank in the home, so the homeowner offered to cut a hole in the floor so the tank could be lowered into the basement, according to Moulton.
“He figured it was worth it to get a free tank,” he said.
The old tanks are being replaced by new tanks made of thick polyethylene plastic and surrounded by a sheet metal jacket. Moulton said the new double-wall tanks will not rust and, in the rare case of a leak, will provide “secondary containment” to capture any oil that escapes the primary tank.
A 2009 law prevents the agencies collaborating on the project from simply replacing the old oil tanks with new tanks of the same type. The new law requires new or replacement tanks within the wellhead protection area of a community water supply to be “double-wall” or have “secondary containment.”
Since spills from corroded tanks, broken filters and overfills often contaminate wells, the new law aims to prevent such spills.
Moulton said such spills cost the state $1 million to $2 million a year.
The Patten project, he said, is vitally important to protect the town’s water supply. Moulton said that there is always a level of threat to local water supplies, but the threat is amplified slightly in Patten because the supply is in the downtown, surrounded by buildings.
“It is always best to have the wellhead away from the population center, but Patten doesn’t have the luxury,” he said.
That project comes on the heels of another that was conducted here in early October to protect the town water supply.
That’s when officials with the DEP and the federal Environmental Protection Agency oversaw demolition of the approximately 75-year-old Patten General Store to facilitate the removal of three underground petroleum storage tanks and contaminated soil discovered during excavation in August.
The underground tanks at the former store and gas station were located less than 600 feet from the town’s drinking water supply.
The latest $100,000 project is being financed through a grant from the state’s Ground Water Cleanup Fund established in 1990. The fund was created for just this purpose, Moulton said.
Crews should be finished by the end of the year.