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Fairfield moves forward on public water expansion

Residents in "hot spots" of PFAS contamination would be connected to new water lines.

FAIRFIELD, Maine — Plans to extend water to residents on wells polluted by toxic chemicals known as PFAS are moving forward in Fairfield.  

In June, voters will be asked if they are in favor of a $48 million project to extend new water lines to more than150 homes on private wells, which had elevated levels of the PFAS.

On Wednesday night, more than 100 people packed a public meeting to hear more details about the multi-million dollar project that would extend water to parts of Fairfield, considered "hot spots" for PFAS contamination. 

The town was at the center of the state's largest PFAS investigation, involving sampling more than 300 private wells.

The Kennebec Water District would provide water to 157 residents on wells that have tested above the safe limits for the industrial compounds. The source of the contamination is wastewater sludge laced with PFAS chemicals. 

For decades, the sludge was trucked to farms, including the Tozier dairy farm, and used as free fertilizer. Penny Harkins grew up just yards away from those fields. She sells tropical coral and fish. She said manufacturers who made the chemicals should be held accountable.

"I don't want you guys paying for something we didn't do. I don't want to lose my business to pay higher taxes for water," Penny Harkins said. 

Town leaders said passing the cost onto the taxpayers would be the last resort. They hope to use grants and millions available from the Biden administration for water infrastructure projects. 

To help with operating costs and ensure water quality, all homes along the expanded lines would be required to connect to the system, including residents without contaminated water. Another concern is that water would still have very small amounts of PFAS, which is allowed if it's below Maine's safety standard.

"We are so contaminated in our blood. We don't want contamination in our system at all," Cathy Harrington explained. 

Cathy and her husband Bruce live on Howe Road. The toxic compounds in their well were more than 3,000 times higher than Maine's safe limit. They, along with other residents, want to keep using carbon filtration systems. 

"People should not have to be forced to use it. If they do bring the lines up, they should have a choice," Bruce added.

Fairfield town Manager Michelle Flewelling told NEWS CENTER Maine in an interview that there are steps that can be taken to eliminate the toxic chemicals.

"The water district can put on its own filtration system so that the Kennebec Water District can bring it down to 0 parts per trillion," Flewelling said.

As PFAS testing expands, and more contamination is discovered across the state, Fairfield officials and some residents are concerned that state funding maintaining those filtration systems will dry up, and residents will have to pick up the tab.

The referendum question will be on the June 14 ballot. If voters approve the project, that would trigger an ordinance. The ordinance would require all homeowners to connect to the new line. The project could take several years to complete.

Residents who would like to send in a public comment can email the Fairfield Town Office. For more resources on the Fairfield PFAS water contamination, click here.

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