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LAMOINE – The quality of residents’ drinking water has been an issue here the past year or so and resulted in debates over a now-withdrawn proposal to install underground gasoline tanks at the local general store, and over the many gravel mining operations in town.
Now, talk is about a proposal to establish a protection zone around a large aquifer that supplies drinking water to some of the private wells in town.
The protection of the town’s drinking water supply officially has been handled by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which has kept track of underground water pollution with wells that were dug around the landfill on Route 184 when it was closed in 1994.
The DEP has determined that the drinking water in one well near the landfill is unfit for consumption and is reimbursing the town for most of the costs of buying bottled drinking water for the residents who use the well.
Many residents here believe that more needs to be done, however. That is why some are proposing that the town establish the protection zone around the aquifer.
Doug Coleman, chairman of the local planning board, believes establishing some protections for the water supply is a good idea. He said the board has been working on the proposed ordinance, which would establish the zone for roughly one year.
“This is one of the most pristine water supplies in the state of Maine,” Coleman said recently. “We’re not protecting it the way we should.”
Coleman said the zone would restrict activity in an area that he estimated would cover several hundred acres.
“It’s almost all of the western part of Lamoine” that the aquifer lies underneath, Coleman said. The aquifer is believed to extend north into parts of Ellsworth and perhaps Hancock as well, he added.
New gravel mining operations would not be allowed in the new zone, but existing operations could continue and land already purchased for mining would be allowed to be dug, Coleman said.
The gravel layers of earth, or eskers, over the aquifer act as a filter for precipitation that travels down through the ground into the aquifer, according to scientists.
How much the quality of the water in the aquifer is affected by the mining of that gravel has been a subject of dispute in Lamoine. Earlier this year, some residents opposed the sale to a private contractor of gravel on town land next to the landfill, arguing that the mining of gravel on land adjacent to the polluted site is contributing to the pollution of the aquifer.
The proposed ordinance would address a lot more than just mining, however.
Veterinary clinics, car washes and cluster housing, among other things, also would not be permitted in the zone, according to Coleman. The zone would extend 500 feet beyond the mapped edges of the aquifer, he said. The planning board is preparing a map that can be laid over the town’s tax maps so that property owners can see if their land would be affected by the zone.
Property owners who would want to build in the zone would have to provide evidence prepared by a geologist that the proposed land use would not harm the water in the aquifer, he added.
“That will be pretty comprehensive and hard to do,” Coleman said. He said that such stringent requirements might discourage people from supporting the zone.
Jay Fowler, a Lamoine resident who mines gravel in town for use in his excavating business, is one who may not support the proposal. He said he has not seen anything in writing, but that he is in favor of providing some protections for the aquifer.
“I don’t believe in polluting it or anything like that,” Fowler said Tuesday. “I understand we need some protection but I’m not sure to what extent we need it. I’m not sure what they’re doing is necessary.”
Fowler said the equipment used in gravel pits has become more environmentally friendly in recent years.
“Everything used to leak oil and everything else,” he said. He added that when he refuels or repairs his equipment, he does so in an area adjacent to the pit designed to catch fuel spills.
Fowler said the gravel deposits in Lamoine have been a source of income for many people over the years and should continue to be. He pointed out that there are industrial facilities built over the aquifer in neighboring towns, and he questioned the wisdom of restricting gravel mining in Lamoine but not elsewhere.
“Is it all right to haul it out of Ellsworth or out of Trenton or Eastbrook?” Fowler said. “We’re lucky to have a nice deposit of it” in Lamoine.
Karen Blennerhasset, a Lamoine resident and member of the Lamoine Community Association, opposed the proposed installation last year of underground fuel storage tanks at the Lamoine General Store. She said a protection zone around the aquifer would be a good idea.
“Definitely, but it has to have some teeth,” Blennerhasset said. “We need to be taking care of the aquifer so we can tap into it.”
Protections for the aquifer, she added, should have been put in place some time ago. “It’s way overdue, but we need it,” she said.
All interested parties, including the companies that own and run gravel pits in Lamoine, should be involved in the discussion, Blennerhasset said.
Coleman said the planning board is getting feedback about the proposal from other town officials in Lamoine and intends to schedule public hearings so it can get feedback from residents interested in the proposal.
“We’d like to have as much public opinion as possible,” he said.