FAIRFIELD — Residents voted Tuesday against a plan to expand the public water system to reach homes with wells affected by PFAS contamination.

The nonbinding referendum asked voters if they supported the proposed $48 million project, which would be funded mostly through grants and require all homes along the expansion to connect to the water system.

Official results from the town clerk Wednesday showed 402 votes against the project and 282 in support of it.

The question was nonbinding, so the project is not automatically canceled.

According to the town charter, the Town Council has the authority to accept and spend funds, according to Town Manager Michelle Flewelling. At previous meetings, however, councilors discussed if there is sufficient town support for the project.

The election results are to be discussed at the next Town Council meeting, set for Wednesday. Flewelling said councilors are expected to decide how to proceed.


The proposed project would expand the Kennebec Water District to reach more areas of town, targeting areas contaminated with PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals.”

PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are a group of manufactured chemicals created in the 1940s. They can repel oil and water, making them useful in many consumer products. The chemicals, however, do not break down in the body or the environment, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.”

Many private wells in Fairfield have been found to have extremely high levels of PFAS, far exceeding the state’s legal limit for drinking water of 20 parts per trillion. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has been testing wells across the state as part of an investigation that is still growing.

When a home has been found to have levels of PFAS that exceed the legal limit, the state DEP has installed a filtration system to remove the chemicals from the water. The DEP has paid for the installation and maintenance of the filtration systems, but the filters are expensive to maintain.

Maine DEP officials wrote a letter recently supporting the water expansion project. The letter stipulates the state DEP does not expect to have the funds to maintain the filtration systems forever.

Fairfield officials have presented the water expansion project as the only other way to address PFAS contamination in town. On top of the cost, however, the Kennebec Water District has said for it to take over the expanded system, the town must pass an ordinance requiring every location on the expanded lines to connect.

At a public hearing on the project in March, residents expressed opposition to the requirement they connect to the expanded water system.

And while Fairfield officials have said they hope to pay for most of the project through outside funding, many residents said they felt the companies that created the chemicals — not the town — should be responsible for the cost of fixing the problem.

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