Residents of Fairfield will hold a nonbinding vote June 14 to see if they support a proposed $48 million expansion of the public water system. An expansion of the system would help those homes and farms that have private wells contaminated by PFAS, also known as forever chemicals. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

FAIRFIELD — As residents prepare to take a nonbinding vote on the proposed $48 million expansion of the public water system, the state has notified town officials that it does not have the money available to maintain water filtration systems “in perpetuity.”

Residents will be asked at the ballot June 14 whether to expand the Kennebec Water District system to reach a significantly larger portion of town, and in doing so provide water to those homes contending with contaminated wells. The vote is meant to help officials measure town support for the project before continuing further, although the Town Council could ultimately decide to act in a way that runs counter to the vote, Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said.

“A yes vote means that you’re in favor of the project premise, it does not mean that we must do anything,” Flewelling said.

The town in the spring applied for federal funding for the expansion project and the commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Melanie Loyzim, wrote a letter of support. In that letter, dated May 19, Loyzim said the department does not expect to have the money to maintain water filtration systems for years on end, and also does not expect the level of PFAS contamination to decrease in the coming years.

“The Department currently provides point of entry treatment systems and ongoing maintenance for contaminated properties,” Loyzim said. “However, the Department does not anticipate having sufficient funding to maintain those systems in perpetuity, nor do we anticipate groundwater concentrations will diminish to safe levels in the foreseeable future.”

The Maine DEP is the agency leading the state’s efforts to test private wells and install filtration systems in homes where the levels of PFAS, or so-called forever chemicals, exceed 20 parts per trillion, the state limit for drinking water.


Forever chemicals is a nickname for PFAS, which stands for per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances. Created in the 1940s, the chemicals are both oil and water resistant, making them useful in a wide variety of consumer goods. However, the chemicals don’t break down in the body or the environment, seemingly lasting forever, hence the nickname.

Under the expansion plan, the town would extend the water system and then the Kennebec Water District would take over operation and maintenance. The project would reach 474 households and install over 20 miles of new water lines.

Town officials have said they hope to pay for most, if not all, of the project with outside funding. The project would also be done in several phases so the town does not need to have all of the money in hand to start.

The water district has said that in order for it to be feasible for the district to take over operation of the expanded system, the town must pass an ordinance requiring all properties along the expansion to hook up to the system.

At a public hearing in March, many residents objected to that requirement. Some said they had filters installed in their homes and their water now had no PFAS detected, and they didn’t want to switch to the water district, where the water has PFAS levels of roughly 7 parts per trillion.

The DEP has been installing filtration systems in homes with contaminated water, but has said that the installation and maintenance is subject to available funding, and Fairfield officials have expressed concerns about the possible 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.

Maine DEP spokesperson David Madore said in an email that the department has tested 418 wells in Fairfield, and found 161 with PFAS levels above the state’s limit. Testing has also expanded into surrounding towns like Benton and Oakland, as well as several other areas around the state.

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