Soil and water

Fairfield moves forward with water expansion project as PFAS testing expands statewide

Penny Higgins and her husband Lawrence are shown in December with their chickens at Penny’s Alpaca Farm Store in Fairfield. The chickens are locked in a coop, they are no longer allowed to roam freely since the eggs tested positive for ‘chemicals forever’. Fairfield is considering a $48 million expansion of the public water supply system to help those whose water is contaminated with chemicals. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel File

FAIRFIELD — As state agencies begin testing “eternal chemicals” at priority sites across the state, Fairfield, one of the original areas of the contamination crisis, is moving forward with a plan to extend public water to affected areas of the city.

The $48 million project would expand the Kennebec Water District, which already serves parts of Fairfield, to reach a much larger area of ​​the city. The water district would take over operations and maintenance after construction, although district officials have said that to make the project workable for them, Fairfield would have to pass an ordinance requiring all locations along the lines expanded connect to the system – even if they do. no contaminated water.

“It’s primarily for water quality purposes,” City Manager Michelle Flewelling said. “Suppose you have a two-mile water pipe and only one person uses it, then there’s a good chance there’s stagnant water in the system. So for the system to work efficiently, you need to have water consumption. »

City Council will hold a public hearing on the project Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. The hearing will be held in the council chambers of the Fairfield Community Center, and on Zoom.

The presence of forever chemicals, or PFAS, in the environment is a growing problem in Maine. PFAS stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances and is a group of chemicals created in the 1940s. The chemicals are both oil and water resistant, making them useful in many products in the consumption, from food packaging to cosmetics.

But the chemicals do not break down in the body or in the environment, causing them to accumulate in water, soil, animals and people, earning them the name chemicals forever. .

In Maine, PFAS contamination has been linked to the land application of sludge, a byproduct of sewage treatment, which has been used as an alternative to fertilizer. As the problem continued to grow, the state passed a bill requiring the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to test every site where sludge was applied for PFAS.

When a well has PFAS levels above the legal limit, DEP will install a carbon filtration system to filter the chemicals. The systems require regular maintenance, and the department said the state will pay for installation and maintenance “subject to available funds.”

As the contamination problem grows across the state, Fairfield officials fear the cost of maintenance will ultimately fall on residents and have sought another solution: expanding the drinking water system.

“It’s the only solution we’ve found where the municipality can do anything to help residents affected by contaminated wells,” Flewelling said.

The city worked with Dirigo Engineering to find the best way to deliver public water to PFAS-contaminated locations, resulting in a preliminary report outlining construction and project costs.

The project was divided into three phases, each focusing on different areas of the city.

The first phase would involve the addition of 23,275 feet of 8-inch watermains and would cost approximately $9.85 million. This would hit 63 properties with PFAS levels above the legal limit and 45 properties that do not meet the PFAS limit for water.

It would include extensions along Old Country Road, part of Ohio Hill Road, Bickford Drive, Oakland Road, Six Rod Road and part of Norridgewock Road.

Phase two would add 44,980 feet of 12-inch and 8-inch watermains, and would be the costliest phase at $205 million. Part of this cost is due to the fact that this phase includes a chlorination and booster flow station, which is important for maintaining water quality along extended lines. It would hit 122 properties with PFAS levels above the legal limit and 66 properties with levels below.

It would include extensions along Ridge Road, Joy Road, Howe Road, Fish Road, the rest of Ohio Hill Road, Skowhegan Road, Nyes Corner Road and Currier Road. It would also complete a northern loop that would allow pipes to return to other parts of the system, which would also help with water quality and allow the project to reach residences in Nyes Corner.

Phase three involves 39,780 feet of 12-inch and 8-inch watermains and would cost $16.9 million, and would reach 63 properties with PFAS levels above the legal limit and 129 properties that have no of contamination exceeding the legal limit.

It would include extensions along Oakland Road, Gagnon Road, Norridgewock Road, Adams Road and Middle Road.

Officials had previously estimated the cost of all the work at around $40 million, but since then the water district has received bids for a separate project with higher costs, causing it to increase the water system expansion estimate at $48 million.

The tentative construction schedule would involve starting the construction permit process now, with phase one of construction beginning in the spring of 2023, phase two in 2024 and phase three in 2025.

City officials said they plan to apply for grants to cover the majority of costs, and Flewelling said the city also has several obligations that will expire in the next few years, so the city will no longer have to make payments on them, meaning any necessary loans could be taken out without significant impact on the city budget.

Flewelling said she encourages all residents to attend the public hearing to learn more, even if they don’t have a strong opinion on the project.

“We really want people to know what’s going on because it affects everyone,” Flewelling said. “Because if this ends up having to be a plan where we have to pay it through taxes, it will affect every ratepayer in the community, whether you’re already on city water or not.”

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