PERRY, Maine — The Board of Selectmen is expected to move forward with plans to appoint a committee that will draft a water ordinance following a special town meeting at which voters unanimously approved a 180-day moratorium on water exploration activities.
“This will give us time…to make sure we have protections in place,” said board chair Karen Raye.
The moratorium was approved by a 43-0 vote at a special town meeting Nov. 4 at Perry Elementary School. It took effect immediately.
The selectmen called for the special town meeting at their board meeting Oct. 22. Their decision followed exploratory well water tests conducted earlier by the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point.
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, has developed several exploratory wells in the town. In late September it conducted tests, pumping out water for 10 days in order 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 moratorium was not sought to prevent a water project from going forward but to ensure that “everybody is aware of it” and there is “no adverse effect on public health,” said Raye, who discussed the results of the town meeting in a phone interview later in the week.
In fact, the moratorium apparently would not impact the tribe’s activities, according to Ray. “They indicated they were not planning on doing anything in the (next) 180 days anyway,” she said.
The moratorium prohibits “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 measure 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.”
No one representing the Passamaquoddy tribe attended the special town meeting, according to Raye.
She did not formally notify tribal leaders after the moratorium vote. Tribal leaders have not inquired about the town meeting vote, either, she indicated.
During the special town meeting, which lasted approximately 45 minutes, she discussed the recent chain of events and the proposed moratorium and fielded questions. “I explained that…it was just a time-out,” said Raye, “like we have said before.”
In addition to two homeowners whose wells were severely impacted by the pump-out tests, others have reported changes in the water level of their wells, reported Raye.
There is also concern about tests showing that water in some wells is contaminated and undrinkable, said Raye. “It’s still a concern…and it’s due to a variety of reasons,” she said, such as high levels of arsenic, coliform, and E. coli.” About four or five residents have reported contaminated water, she said.
“We’re still encouraging people to test their wells and share the results, positive and negative,” she added. “My concerns is we’re only hearing the negative…We want to hear both.”
The board plans to appoint a water committee and would like a member of the tribe to serve on the panel, said Raye. “I would love to have a tribal member who is a Perry resident participate in the process.”
She called tribal governor Reuben Cleaves on Oct. 31 and left word that she was contacting him to ask for a recommendation of someone to serve on the committee, indicated Raye, but he has not responded. “We’d love to talk to him about it,” she said.
Cleaves did not respond to a message left by the Bangor Daily News asking for comment about the moratorium vote.