December 06, 2019
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Well water contamination worries persist in South Berwick

Deb Cram | Portsmouth Herald
Deb Cram | Portsmouth Herald
South Berwick Town Council Chairman Jack Kareckas, with town councilor Russ Abell, left, presides over meeting in this Seacoast Online file photo.

SOUTH BERWICK, Maine —Water contamination and reducing plastic bags were among the major topics discussed at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting.

Councilor Abigail Kemble began the meeting by revisiting concerns surrounding Tetrachloro Ethylene, a volatile organic compound, in the Hooper Sands Road area of South Berwick.

This compound had originally been discovered in several Hooper Sands water wells in the mid-1990s. More recently, the compound’s presence within a water well at 128 Hooper Sands Road has once again generated worries about this contaminant.

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Noting that water testing kits available at Town Hall do not measure Tetrachloro Ethylene, Kemble stated that “we need to make sure that new homes in that area are using town water, rather than private wells.” She indicated that at least seven wells are within a one-mile radius of Hooper Sands.

John Leach, superintendent of the South Berwick Water District, offered background on the compound issue. He noted that, in 1994, intentions had been made to “provide safe drinking water” in the area but that “it was never really followed up by the state.”

He further stated that “the extent of contamination there” is “unknown.” Later during the meeting, Leach clarified his remarks by stating that all houses on Hooper Sands Road have been connected to the town’s water system. However, whether homeowners in the area are using their private wells to water gardens or wash cars, for instance, hasn’t been determined.

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Regardless, Jack Kareckas, chairperson of the town council, stated that “this is DEP’s (state Department of Environmental Protection) ball. The problem is that the clean-up never happened.”

“If those wells are still being used, contamination is possible,” agreed Town Manager Perry Ellsworth. “But you can’t force anyone not to use stuff on their property.”

As a first step toward a solution, Kemble suggested that area homeowners be contacted as to whether they are still actively using their wells. For those seeking to do testing for the compound, Leach offered to take water samples. Ellsworth stated that he would be in contact with the DEP for next steps.

Whatever remediation is possible, Kemble stated that she didn’t want to see “hardship put on homeowners.”

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During the councilors’ comments section of the meeting, Kemble announced that she has been educating Marshwood School District students about town government. One outcome of her discussions has been keen interest in local legislation to reduce usage of plastic bags.

Kareckas suggested a “listening session” in which South Berwick residents and businesses would be invited to discuss ideas about limiting plastic bags within town.

“We need a listening session first and then we can go into a possible ordinance,” agreed Ellsworth.

One idea was suggested by Councilor John James who pointed out that, in San Diego, shoppers can purchase plastic bags at ten cents per bag. A similar system is used in several communities around Maine.

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Regarding the involvement of Marshwood students, Kemble stated that a plastic bags reduction effort “is not necessarily for us but for the next generation.”

In other business, Ellsworth informed the council that work could be completed on the new police station by mid-May. This would allow the delivery of furniture in time for the possible grand opening of the station on Sunday, June 23.

Finally, Ellsworth stated that increases in fuel and other costs, less than anticipated revenue sharing from the state, and other concerns could force hard decisions on the upcoming budget. “We have a lot to discuss,” he told the councilors, “we may have to look at what is essential and what isn’t essential” in town services.

 



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