FAIRFIELD — Town officials are moving forward with a $40 million plan to expand the public water system so it can include those property owners with private wells who are contending with contamination by “forever chemicals.”

The Town Council recently heard a preliminary report by Fairfield-based Dirigo Engineering that looks at expanding the system operated by the Kennebec Water District.

Dirigo started the review process by considering how to expand the water system, according to Rick Pershken, a project manager at the firm. Engineers reviewed several options but found that the only feasible one is to connect to the water district mains already in place, he said.

After the town completed the expansion, KWD would take over, operate and maintain the expanded system. Dirigo is in contact with the water district and willing to work with the town, said Pershken, who updated the council at its meeting Wednesday.

“Forever chemicals” are more formally referred to as PFAS, which stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, a group of synthetic chemicals that repel oil and water. The chemicals do not break down inside the human body or in the environment, earning them the “forever chemicals” nickname. Created in the 1940s, they have been used in a wide variety of consumer goods and linked to a number of health concerns.

In the Fairfield area, state agencies have found high levels of PFAS on dairy farms and in well water, soil, fish, eggs, deer and produce.


When a home is found to have levels of PFAS above the state limit, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection will install a carbon filtration system to filter out the chemicals. The department has said it will pay for the installation and maintenance of the filters, subject to available funding.

As PFAS testing has expanded across the state, however, Fairfield officials have expressed concern about ongoing state funding for filters and the cost to residents, if they have to pay out of pocket. The department has said the filter installation ranges from $8,000 to $24,000, and the maintenance costs over several years can be from $5,000 to $7,500.

“Filtration systems are being installed, and the state of Maine is maintaining them,” Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said. “We all know that they’re only going to maintain them for as long as funds hold out. And as they continue to expand throughout the state, the funds are not going to hold out forever.”

The expanded water lines would reach most of the homes found to have levels of PFAS over the state’s 20 parts per trillion limit for drinking water. The proposed project would expand the water system in every direction, and be divided into three phases.

The first phase would be focused on the shorter expanded lines, such as Bickford Drive, which are the easiest to complete. That portion would cost about $8.4 million, with the possibility of beginning construction next year.

The second phase would create a loop along Ridge Road, part of Ohio Hill Road and Skowhegan Road, and then connect back to the existing water system, allowing water to flow without reaching an end point, which helps with water quality. That phase would cost about $17.2 million, and construction could begin in 2024 or 2025.


The final step would focus on longer expansions, such as those needed on Norridgewock Road and Middle Road. That phase would cost about $14.3 million, and construction could begin in 2026 or 2027.

Pershken said he has heard from the Good Will-Hinckley Home for Boys and Girls and the Sappi North America paper mill about partnering with the town to expand the system to reach them.

Funding remains the biggest question related to the project. Jim Lord of Dirigo Engineering said the town can apply for grants from various sources. It is a relatively good time to start the project, Lord said, because there are funding options for a project like this, and Fairfield is seen as a hotspot for PFAS contamination.

“It’s a lot of money for a small town (or) medium-sized town in central Maine,” Lord said. “It is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of what the USDA, the federal government, funds for water treatment plants around this country.

“You’ll see it all the time, a $60 million wastewater treatment plant. So if we think about where the money can be coming from, federally subsidized money, it’s not obnoxious.”

The three-phase approach means the town does not need to find all $40 million at the same time, Lord said.

The project would also likely involve a new town ordinance. Pershken said KWD would want the town to pass an ordinance requiring those on an expanded line to connect to the system.

The water district says this is needed for it to operate the expanded system because there would be much more maintenance.

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