Perry officials warn 35 households about contaminated wells

The Passamaquoddy Water District, which is not connected to the Passamaquoddy Tribe, serves the tribe reservation at Pleasant Point and the city of Eastport. It has struggled to maintain water quality and has been cited by state officials for numerous violations in recent years.
Tim Cox | BDN
The Passamaquoddy Water District, which is not connected to the Passamaquoddy Tribe, serves the tribe reservation at Pleasant Point and the city of Eastport. It has struggled to maintain water quality and has been cited by state officials for numerous violations in recent years. Buy Photo
Posted Oct. 13, 2013, at 2:46 p.m.

PERRY, Maine — Perry officials went door-to-door Sunday morning to warn about 35 households that their wells may be contaminated and unsafe to drink after learning from the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point about the existence of coliform bacteria in wells in their neighborhood.

“We are recommending people consider boiling their water until such time as they can test their wells,” Karen Raye, chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen, said Sunday after helping deliver the one-page notices.

The Board of Selectmen decided to issue the warning when it met in an emergency session earlier Sunday morning.

The meeting was called after Ray received an email from Marvin Cling, environmental director for the tribe, Saturday evening in response to a letter from the Board of Selectmen. The board met in executive session Friday evening to put the finishing touches on its letter, which Raye sent to Cling that night by email and also was sent by registered mail.

The board’s letter was in regard to tests the tribe conducted in late September on exploratory wells. Those tests involved pumping out water for 10 days to determine the capacity of the wells and the effect on the aquifer.

Several Perry residents have complained to town officials those pump-out tests reduced the water level in their wells and tainted the quality of their water. Town officials issued a stop work order at the conclusion of the pump-out tests and have been investigating.

She received a reply email from Cling Saturday evening, said Raye, who provided a copy of the communication to the Bangor Daily News. In his response, Cling noted that tests conducted prior to the pump-out tests indicated contaminated water in wells that were being monitored.

“I was able to provide some of the private well owners that were part of the monitoring their pre-test well water results,” said Cling in the email. “All reports came back undrinkable.” Residents can call an 800 number for more information, he said, although he did not provide the phone number.

“From what I gather, most wells are contaminated with coliform bacteria,” Cling said. “It is not uncommon from what I know. There is a kit mentioned in the report that the homeowners can use to disinfect their wells.”

Raye, fellow selectman Scott MacNichol, and town public health officer Doug Curry went door-to-door and delivered the one-page notices to about 35 households on Golding Road and South Meadow Road late Sunday morning.

The notice informed residents that tests on the seven monitoring wells in the neighborhood determined the water was contaminated with coliform bacteria and was undrinkable. “It is unclear what has caused this.” The notice advised residents to boil water for at least one minute.

“Again, it is unclear what may have caused this in your neighbors’ wells. Apparently the presence of coliform bacteria is not uncommon. However, the selectmen are concerned that having multiple wells in a small geographic area with coliform bacteria levels so high that the water is deemed undrinkable poses a public health concern.”

The notice also a website address for the Maine Center for Disease Control and a fact sheet on coliform bacteria.

The tests indicating the coliform bacteria contamination were conducted prior to the pump-out tests, emphasized Raye. “We’re not saying this [contamination] has anything to do with that.”

“We just felt an obligation to share the information with the neighboring property owners,” she added.

Raye said she was attempting to contact a state health official who has duties in Washington and Hancock counties but did not expect to hear from him until Tuesday because Monday is Columbus Day.

Town officials also were trying to gather information to relay to residents about how they could go about testing their wells.

The selectmen also scheduled another special session for 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Cling did not directly respond to the board’s Friday letter, writing, “I expect Indian Health Service and Wright-Pierce to review and address the contents of the letter.”

In its carefully written letter addressed to Cling and dated Oct. 11, the selectmen, who already have retained a Bangor land use attorney to advise them on this matter, acknowledged the tribe’s recent “groundwater extraction activities.”

“As you know, this activity has caused several residents to experience issues with their domestic water sources, which led to the Code Enforcement Officer’s above-referenced Stop Work Order,” the letter states.

The selectmen also warned Cling that the matter remains under investigation and that the tribe could face penalties. “The Board of Selectmen considers this an open enforcement matter under investigation by the Town.” The selectmen have the authority to take civil action for violations of the town’s land use ordinance, they noted. “This includes violations for failing to obtain necessary local approvals prior to conducting extensive groundwater extraction activities that affect other properties in Perry.” The town can recover costs of prosecution and impose penalties of up to $2,500 per violation on a per diem basis, the board warned.

The selectmen acknowledged in their letter that the tribe “is undertaking good faith efforts” to help property owners mitigate negative effects to their water supplies and to conduct an investigation to ensure that the quantity and quality of the groundwater is restored.

“If the Town determines the adverse conditions have been corrected or abated, then it will consider this enforcement matter closed without the need to resort to legal action.”

In closing, Raye said she would continue to monitor the situation and to report to the full board and would contact the tribe this week in order to be updated on its efforts.

The tribe is using federal grant money in an attempt to find a source of water. The reservation currently is served by the Passamaquoddy Water District, which is not connected to the tribe and serves the city of Eastport as well. The water district has a history of problems with its water quality and has been cited numerous times by the state program that oversees public water utilities.

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