FAIRFIELD — As state agencies begin testing for “forever chemicals” at priority sites in Maine, Fairfield, one of the original areas in the contamination crisis, is moving forward with a plan to expand public water to affected areas in the community.

The $48 million project would expand the Kennebec Water District, which already serves some parts of Fairfield, to reach a much larger area of town.

The water district would take over operations and maintenance after construction, although KWD officials have said that to make the project feasible, Fairfield would need to pass an ordinance requiring all locations along the expanded lines to connect to the system — including those without contaminated water.

“It is mainly for water quality purposes,” Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said. “Say you have a 2-mile run of water line and only one person is using it. Then the chances are that water could become stagnant in the system. So in order for the system to work efficiently, you have to have water usage.”

Penny and Lawrence Higgins in December with their chickens at Penny’s Alpaca Farm store at 4 Currier Road in Fairfield. The chickens are enclosed in a coop, no longer allowed to roam freely since eggs have tested positive for PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals.” Fairfield is considering a $48 million expansion of the public water system to help those with water tainted by the chemicals. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

The Town Council has scheduled a public hearing on the project for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Council Chambers at the Fairfield Community Center, 61 Water St. It will also be streamed over Zoom — crossroads-tv.com/zoomreg.html.

The presence of PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” in the environment is a growing problem in Maine. PFAS stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances and is a group of chemicals created in the 1940s. The chemicals are oil and water-resistant, making them useful in many consumer products, from food packaging to cosmetics.


The chemicals, however, do not break down in the environment or the body, causing them to accumulate in water, soil, animals and people, earning them the name “forever chemicals.”

In Maine, the PFAS contamination has been linked to the spreading of sludge, a wastewater treatment byproduct used as fertilizer. As the PFAS problem has worsened in Maine, the state has passed a bill requiring the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to test for the chemicals at every site where sludge has been spread over the years.

When a well shows a PFAS level exceeding the legal limit, the DEP installs a carbon filtration system to remove the dangerous chemicals. Filtration systems require regular maintenance, and the state DEP has said it will pay for installation and maintenance, “subject to available funding.”

As the contamination problem grows across Maine, Fairfield officials have been concerned the cost of maintenance will eventually fall onto residents and have looked for another solution, such as expanding the drinking water system.

“It is the only solution we have found in which the municipality can do anything to help any of the residents that are affected with contaminated wells,” Flewelling said.

Town officials have worked with Dirigo Engineering of Fairfield to find the best way to provide public water to locations with PFAS contamination, resulting in a preliminary report outlining the project construction and costs.


The project has been divided into three phases, each which would address different areas of Fairfield.

Phase 1 would involve the installation of 23,275 feet of 8-inch water pipes and cost about $9.85 million. This would reach 63 properties with PFAS levels that exceed the legal limit, and 45 properties that do not reach the PFAS limit for water.

It would include extensions along Old Country Road, a portion of Ohio Hill Road, Bickford Drive, Oakland Road, Six Rod Road and part of Norridgewock Road.

Phase 2 would add 44,980 feet of 12-inch and 8-inch water pipes and be the most expensive phase — about $20.5 million. Part of the cost is driven by a booster chlorination and flow station, which is important for maintaining water quality along the extended lines, according to officials. It would reach 122 properties with PFAS levels that exceed the legal limit, and 66 properties that do not reach the PFAS limit for water.

It would include extensions along Ridge Road, Joy Road, Howe Road, Fish Road, the rest of Ohio Hill Road, Skowhegan Road, Nyes Corner Road and Currier Road. It would also complete a northern loop that would allow the pipes to travel back to other parts of the system, also helping with water quality and allowing the project to reach residences at Nyes Corner.

Phase 3 would involve 39,780 feet of 12-inch and 8-inch water pipes and cost about $16.9 million. It would reach 63 properties with PFAS that exceed the legal limit, and 129 properties that do not have contamination surpassing the legal limit.


It would include extensions along Oakland Road, Gagnon Road, Norridgewock Road, Adams Road and Middle Road.

Officials had previously estimated the cost for all the work at about $40 million. The water district has since received bids for a separate project with higher costs, leading it to increase to $48 million the estimate on the water system expansion.

The tentative construction schedule would mean beginning the permitting process for work soon, with Phase 1 construction starting in spring 2023, Phase 2 in 2024 and Phase 3 in 2025.

Fairfield officials have said they plan to apply for grants to cover the majority of the cost. Flewelling said the town has several bonds that are to expire in the next few years, so it will no longer have to make those payments, meaning loans could be taken out without having a significant impact on the municipal budget.

Flewelling also said she has encouraged all Fairfield residents to attend Wednesday’s public hearing.

“We really just want people to be informed of what’s going on because it does affect everyone,” she said. “Because if it ultimately ends up having to be a plan in which we have to pay for it through taxation, it’ll affect every single taxpayer in the community, regardless whether you’re already on town water or not.”

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