Residents voted Monday night at a special town meeting to purchase a 4-acre parcel of land to build a new municipal salt and sand shed. Credit: Abigail Curtis | BDN

THORNDIKE, Maine — For three years, the Waldo County town of Thorndike has grappled with a problem: an uncovered pile of salt and sand that’s been leaching into a nearby brook.

The town’s municipal road salt pile has been on the radar of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection since 2016, when the agency first received a complaint about it.

The salt threatens the quality of groundwater and can have a detrimental effect on freshwater bugs and other aquatic species. The town has known for some time that it needed to be fixed.

“I’ve lived here 30 years, and for most of the time I’ve been here, people have been talking about it,” said Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton, a Thorndike resident who commented at a special town meeting there on Monday that aimed to address the issue.

Residents voted to purchase a 4-acre site on Brooks Road for $24,000, where they’ll construct a salt and sand storage shed to become compliant with state regulations.

“This is progress. We finally picked a spot,” Trafton said.

The current pile at 95 Unity Road seeps downhill into Hall Brook, which empties into Half Moon Stream. According to a March 15 article in the Republican Journal newspaper, the Department of Environmental Protection found salt contamination in both the brook and the stream. The agency issued a notice of violation in February, threatening to fine the town unless it fixed the issue.

“Once the fine came in, that’s when Thorndike got moving,” said Third Selectman Mike Mayer, who is part of the all-new selectboard elected this spring. “Since we were voted in, that’s been one of our biggest focuses.”

According to information distributed before the meeting, that new property would need some work before the shed can be built. The town would need to level the site and construct a driveway. But the plan was the least expensive of three options, with the others costing $30,000 and $53,000.

“Like so many small towns, we put it off for a long time because we knew it would be expensive,” Trafton said.

Taxpayer spending matters in a town with a population that’s fewer than 1,000 people.

Work will need to happen quickly so that salt and sand can be safely stored before the stash is needed to treat winter roads.

“We’re up against the eight ball,” Bob Carter, a former selectman, said. “August is almost over. It could snow in October, and we need a place to put our sand. That’s the bottom line.”

Maine Department of Environmental Protection will permit Thorndike to use a covered asphalt pad to store the salt and sand for a year, until the shed can be built in 2020.

Recently, residents voted to spend as much as $50,000 to purchase land for the shed. Money that’s not spent will be used toward groundwork and construction.

Mayer said that if the community had acted faster, it could have participated in a state program that would have partially funded construction costs. But the program ceased in 2017, he said, and now the town will have to bear the costs alone.

“But it has to happen,” he said. “We’ve got to have one and it’s got to happen right off.”