RICHMOND — Nine households lost their water Tuesday when the Richmond Utilities District shut the tap to prevent possible contamination of the town’s drinking water.

Sewage is overflowing from a private pumping station at the Meadowbrook Trailer Park, and there are leaks in the water pipes. Richmond Utilities District Superintendent Frank Talbot said those problems could threaten the water supply for the district’s other 580 customers.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission “said I had an inherent responsibility to the rest of the customers in the district to make sure there was no chance of this sewage being sucked back into the drinking water system,” Talbot said.

Meanwhile, sewage is flowing downhill from the trailer park into Mill Brook. The brook, which empties into the Kennebec River, contains high levels of E. coli from the waste, according to testing by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Talbot said he notified the park’s tenants and owner, Russell Edwards Jr., on April 4 that the water would be shut off in 14 days unless equipment was repaired and tested. After nothing happened, Talbot shut off the water about 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Talbot said the PUC told him that in an emergency, he can turn off the water right away, but he wanted to be fair to Edwards and the tenants of the mobile home park.

Nine of the park’s mobile homes are occupied, and all of the residents are without tap water to drink or use for cooking or bathing. At least one family there has young children.

Norma Duperre, 49, said her daughter drove up from Massachusetts with her 11-month-old child during the weekend for a surprise visit, but she would have to cut the visit short.

“I can’t even buy a gallon of water, because I don’t have any income to do that,” Duperre said.

She said she has no friends or relatives in the area who could put her up or even let her take a shower.

Like most of the units in the park, Duperre’s mobile home is run down. A sheet of plastic is stretched across the inside of a window with a cracked pane. Duperre said the window and the railing on her porch have been broken since she moved in eight years ago, and her home isn’t on a concrete slab or anchored to the ground.

Duperre said she has had a series of E. coli infections in the past year, and she wonders whether it’s related to the sewage problem. Until now, with the urgency of the water shutoff, she has kept quiet.

“I don’t complain as bad,” she said. “I don’t want to be homeless, so I just keep my mouth shut.”

Some of the other mobile homes in the park have boards covering broken windows. Vacant mobile homes are filled with debris from unfinished renovations and gradual deterioration. On Tuesday, the dirt road was muddy and pocked with water-filled potholes.

Edwards, who has owned the park since the early 1990s, said Tuesday that he can’t afford to fix the sewage pump, the pipes or any of the other problems.

Edwards, 80, said he and his wife live on Social Security and are trying to keep their own home on Peaks Island from going into foreclosure.

Talbot said the utilities district has multiple liens against the property because Edwards is past due on his water bill by nearly $20,000. Talbot has been on the job for only a month, but said district trustees have told him that Edwards has been past due by five figures for years.

The town of Richmond also has placed liens against the property. According to the Sagadahoc County Registry of Deeds, 16 municipal liens were placed on Edwards’ Richmond property in August.

Phil Garwood, a specialist with the DEP, went to the mobile home park March 27 after being notified by Richmond Code Enforcement Officer James Valley of the potential contamination of Mill Brook.

Garwood said they determined that outflow from the sewage pumping station was reaching the brook, then tested the concentration of E. coli bacteria in three spots: at the point of discharge by the bank, farther into the brook and at a spot in Mill Brook near Route 24.

Near Route 24, the result was 31 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters. Garwood said anything below 100 indicates fairly clean water.

Just downstream from the discharge point, the sample registered at the top of the scale for the test, at a concentration of 2,419. At the discharge point, the concentration of E. coli was above the limits of the test.

“It indicates that human sewage is getting into the water, and that any contact of the water by people would be a potential health risk,” Garwood said.

He said he sent a notice of violation to Edwards on April 14, instructing him to cease the discharge immediately. Edwards has 10 days to respond and will have to correct the problem or face penalties, Garwood said.

Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

[email protected]