PERRY, Maine — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday evening to seek a 180-day moratorium prohibiting the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point from activities to develop an alternate source of water.
The three-person board adopted an article for the proposed moratorium and set a special town meeting Nov. 4 to put the question to the town’s voters, who must approve it.
The moratorium would buy the town time to amend its land use ordinance and also adopt a water ordinance, explained board chairman Karen Raye.
The town must take steps “to make sure that people are protected” from the tribe’s project, said Raye.
“We need the time … to protect the people of Perry,” she said.
The tribe, dissatisfied with the quality of water supplied by the Passamaquoddy Water District, a public utility that serves the reservation and the city of Eastport, is seeking an alternate source or water and has developed several exploratory wells in the town. It conducted tests in late September, pumping out water for 10 days to determine the capacity of the wells and the effect on the aquifer.
Several Perry residents complained to town officials that 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 since then.
Tests on seven private wells belonging to tribal members that were being monitored in conjunction with the tribe’s project have shown they were contaminated. One well was contaminated by E. coli and the other wells showed high levels of coliform, according to town and tribal officials.
The proposed moratorium, which Raye said had not been discussed with tribal leaders, targets “large scale groundwater extraction activities” — over 5,000 gallons per day. It also would apply to tests, including the pump-out tests like those already conducted. Violations of the moratorium would be subject to enforcement action and penalties.
The proposed moratorium says the “continued development of large scale groundwater extraction activities poses a serious harm to the public health, safety, and welfare of the Town of Perry without adequate provisions to address such harms.”
The moratorium would take effect immediately if approved by voters at the town meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Perry Elementary School.
The selectmen set another session Oct. 27 to sign the warrant setting the town meeting.
Raye said she had not discussed the proposed moratorium with tribal leaders but she does not believe the moratorium would interfere with any immediate plans the tribe may have to further the project.
“I don’t believe they’re planning on doing anything in the next 180 days,” she said.
“It’s just a timeout,” said Raye. Town officials are “not saying you can’t do the project,” she said.
Town officials were considering updating Perry’s land use ordinance anyway, said Raye.
“The timing is good,” she said.
If the moratorium is approved by voters, the board likely would appoint a committee to begin developing a proposed water ordinance, said Raye.
The water quality tests of the monitoring wells were conducted before and after the pump-out tests.
Tests showed the monitoring wells were contaminated by coliform bacteria and the water was undrinkable. The discovery prompted Raye and other town officials to go door-to-door on Oct. 13 to warn about 35 households in the neighborhood that their wells might be contaminated, too.
However, Raye conferred with state health officials later, and they indicated the tests could have been flawed and the results not accurate. The samples were taken from outdoor faucets and garden hoses.
New tests were conducted last week and confirmed the existence of coliform in wells and also the presence of E. coli in one well.
Raye said she learned of the latest test results on Monday via an email from Marvin Cling, environmental director for the tribe at Pleasant Point.