Cumberland council to discuss stronger aquifer protections

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Dec. 10 plans to discuss ways to strengthen protection of the town’s aquifers.

John Sevee of Sevee & Maher Engineers has developed a report that identifies threats to aquifers, and the council may ultimately strengthen the existing aquifer protection ordinance with requirements for inspections.

Aquifer protection received heightened awareness earlier this year when the Planning Board was reviewing an application by One Steel, a metal recycling operation that had been proposed for the Chase Pit on Blackstrap Road, according to Town Manager Bill Shane.

One Steel, which withdrew its application, would have been within five feet of the water table of an aquifer in west Cumberland.

“It caused us to look at the ordinances and say, ‘are we well-protected … do we need to do some modification?,'” Shane said.

The western aquifer, one of three major water sources in town, contains between 5 and 10 billion gallons. It is a natural resource large enough to supply all of southern Maine, but is being tapped only by private wells, Shane explained. It is also the most sensitive of the three, with less of a buffer to the surface and therefore more susceptible to contamination.

The other two major aquifers are near the Cumberland Fairgrounds, off Blanchard Road and Main Street. Town staff has been looking at allowable uses in those areas; for example, a warehouse may not be harmful to an aquifer, but its contents may be.

“And is there a better way to go about protecting the aquifer versus just restricting all uses,” Shane said. “Because you could argue that every use that we have could have an impact.”

Gas stations, with underground fuel tanks, are easily seen as a harmful use, he pointed out. “But how is that different from a tanker traveling up Route 100 to Gray … that has a leak? We really have to get away from maybe ‘the sky is falling’-type scenarios and focus on what would be the best way to inspect … and basically sustain aquifer protection.”

Shane said he could see an annual inspection, and an inventory of operations above an aquifer, by the code enforcement officer.

A warehouse full of paper towels is not an issue, he said, while one full of fertilizer could pose a problem. Changes in uses at a business would need to be monitored, to ensure a new use would not have an adverse impact on the aquifer.

“We’re going in the right direction,” he added. “We need to decide which is the best path, and it’s either through elimination of uses or reinforcement and education, and inspection.”

Shane prefers the latter option. “Trying to work collaboratively with the businesses versus the big-stick approach … is a much more effective tool,” he said.

Monday’s workshop will take place at Town Hall at 6 p.m., just before the Town Council’s regular 7 p.m. meeting.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.