FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield Town Council agreed on next steps regarding its plans to expand the public drinking water system and officials also held a public hearing for the town budget. 

Councilors met Wednesday and discussed the next steps in the town’s request for qualifications process for the project to expand the public drinking water system. Submissions closed last week, and the town received responses from five firms: Dirigo Engineering, A.E. Hodsdon Consulting Engineers, Wright-Pierce, Woodard and Curran, and Haley Ward (formerly CES Inc.). 

“What we are looking for is the firm that is best suited to help guide us through the expansion of public drinking water and what that looks like and what that picture is,” Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said. 

The project is spurred by an ongoing investigation by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection into per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, contamination in wells in Fairfield, as well as areas of Benton and Unity Township. 

According to the most recent numbers from MDEP, officials have tested 214 residential wells in Fairfield and found 63 to have levels higher than the health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion — that’s roughly 29% of wells tested. 

PFAS are a group of chemicals often called “forever chemicals” because their bond is strong and they do not break down easily in the body or the environment. They were first used in the 1940s in consumer products, including carpeting, fabric, clothing and food packaging. PFAS were also used in firefighting foam used at military bases, airports and training facilities. 

In January, the environmental department began installing granular activated carbon or resin filtration systems in locations where the level of PFAS exceeded the health advisory. The department will pay for the installation and maintenance of the filters — subject to available funding. 

The goal of the water system expansion is to offer residents an alternative to the carbon filters.  

The submissions are similar to a job application for firms, and explain expertise as well as similar projects a firm has done in the past. There is no information included about the cost to hire each firm, Flewelling said, because that is often a requirement for federal funding.  

“What we did, is when we set about this process, was to ensure that whatever we did for efforts now didn’t have to be repeated later should we get a funding opportunity,” Flewelling said. “So that’s why it was done this way.” 

Flewelling said she had been contacted by two residents who offered to assist the council in the process of reviewing the qualification submissions. First was Roger Crouse who is the general manager of the Kennebec Water District and previously worked at the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention Drinking Water program. Mike Watson also reached out. He is a Fairfield resident affected by the water contamination, and while he is retired now, he used to work for Central Maine Power Co. and reviewed similar documents in that role.  

Council members said they would like to hear from Crouse and Watson, and for next steps agreed to get copies of all submissions to council members as well as the two volunteers. Then, Flewelling said, she would see how long it would take everyone to get through the material and schedule a date for the whole group to meet and discuss. 

There were no comments from the public on the budget Wednesday, but Flewelling went over the highlights.  

The total budget comes out to $7.8 million, which is down approximately $100,000 from last year. The Town Council and the budget committee recommended the same budget this year.

The municipal expenses total just over $6 million, and revenue projections come in around $3.75 million. So the town will need to raise $2,269,774.50 from taxation, a 0.75% — or $16,910.50 — increase over last year. The overall $7.8 million budget includes municipal, school and county spending. Only the municipal portion of the budget has increased.

Since Gov. Mills announced plans for her supplemental budget earlier this week, any increases in revenue sharing for the town have not been calculated and finalized. As a results, town officials cannot predict the exact impact on taxpayers at this point.

Fairfield’s First Park contributions are down $11,000 this year, and both the county budget and the town’s portion of the Maine School Administrative District 49 budget have decreased.

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