BREWER, Maine — The city notified 16 residences on Wiswell Road and Elm Street in June 2005 that their wells were contaminated and agreed to provide them with bottled water until a permanent solution — extending the water line — could be completed.
A new water main recently was installed in the area and Brewer officials informed the residents that the city would pay to connect them and pay their water bill for five years but will be discontinuing the bottled water. The news upset some of the residents, who signed a petition calling the solution “unacceptable.”
Three Elm Street residents, Paige Raymond, Jeannette Robbins and Vicki Cox-Proulx, who all signed the petition, stood before the City Council on Tuesday to voice their complaints.
“It’s an undue burden,” Cox-Proulx said. “Before my water was free.”
She added later, “I’m asking the city to provide to me viable drinking water at no cost to me.”
Raymond and Robbins both wanted to know why the source of the contamination, which occurred in the vicinity of the old landfill and former sand and salt shed, has never officially been determined.
“I’d like to know why 12 or 13 wells on Elm Street are contaminated and we don’t know why,” Robbins said.
The wells reportedly had elevated levels of iron, arsenic and manganese.
City Manager Steve Bost responded, saying soil contamination experts were hired and the city has been working with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to find the cause.
“The fact of the matter is: It is yet to be determined,” he said, adding later that, “They haven’t been able to find the answer.”
The city took action immediately after discovering the contamination to find a temporary solution to the problem and now has a permanent solution, he said.
“The city did not leave the residents high and dry,” Bost said. “We were looking for a long-term solution and that solution is being presented tonight.”
Mayor Joseph Ferris also responded, saying, “We’ve taken responsibility for it. That is not the issue. We’ve provided water for the last five years and we’re resolving” the issue.
“What else do you want us to say?”
Raymond, who has a family of four, also complained that the city is only offering to pay for 900 cubic feet of water per quarter, which is the minimum water bill.
“If I flush my toilet nine times a day that uses up my quarterly” quota, she said. “It doesn’t seem fair.”
Assistant City Manager James Smith explained the history of the issue to councilors and explained the offer, which “covers the entire cost for the hookup,” including replacing internal plumbing. The connection expense is “on top of the cost the city has already occurred for providing bottled drinking water and filtering systems for the past six years,” he said.
Twelve people, who live in seven of the 16 residences identified, already have signed up for city water.
Ferris addressed the three who stood at the podium and others from Elm Street who sat in the audience.
“Providing you with bottled water was never a long-term solution,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense. We’re footing the cost to put it in and five years of water.”
“We think it’s more than fair,” the mayor said later to end the conversation.