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Road salt suspected as cause of contamination for several private wells in Cumberland

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Road salt suspected as cause of contamination for several private wells in Cumberland

CUMBERLAND — An engineering firm will conduct a study of wells on Middle Road to determine how many show elevated levels of salt.

The company will report back to the town in a few months with its findings and recommendations.

A neighborhood meeting was held Tuesday evening at Cumberland Town Hall for Middle Street residents to hear a report from John Sevee, president of Sevee & Maher Engineers, on which course his waste management and hydrogeologic consulting firm will take in the months ahead.

Town Manager Bill Shane said an independent well test at 261 Middle Road earlier this year found elevated salt levels and triggered further study.

Sevee & Mahar conducted tests in August and September on wells at 254, 259, 260 and 261 Middle Road, as well as at wells owned by Main Line Fence near the Yarmouth town line. The Main Line Fence wells were found to have minimal amounts of salt while the other four had more significant levels, Sevee said.

While flow from a Maine Department of Transportation garage north of those wells in Yarmouth was once considered as a potential cause of the salt contamination, the lower levels in the Main Line Fence wells between the garage and the contaminated wells rules out the DOT garage as a the source of the salt, Sevee said.

Instead, he theorized that winter salting of Middle Road may have caused the contamination.

Sevee said the land in the area is too flat for melting snow to drain away rapidly. "During the winter, when you have ice dams and everything else, it would almost prefer to go downward into the ground rather than run out, because there's no place basically for it to go," he said.

Improved ditching could potentially solve that problem, Sevee said.

If the cause of contamination is determined to be road salting, one remedy could be to drill new wells and tap into better water sources, either deeper into the ground or further from the road, he explained.

Another option could be to bring town water to the area. Shane said the cost of extending Cumberland's public supply could be about $500,000.

On the other hand, bringing the line a shorter distance down from Yarmouth could be about $100,000, he said. On Wednesday morning Shane said Yarmouth Water District Superintendent Robert MacKinnon had expressed willingness to assist Cumberland in bringing a water line down to Middle Road, should Cumberland take that approach.

If the salt problem is ultimately found to affect only a few residents, treatment of their water to rid it of the salt could be an option, Sevee said.

"And it may be that they can't get all the salt out," he noted. "It may just be that the cost for doing that for individual homes would become so extensive that everybody would say ‘I can live with the salt.'"

Sevee said consumption the water with the salt levels he has found is harmless to most people, although people with high blood pressure might have to be careful not to consume too much of it.

The focus of Sevee's further study, to run from January to late winter or early spring, will be the Middle Road wells from the Yarmouth line south to around Greely Road, an area that includes about a dozen or more wells.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.