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Wellwater Levels Drop For Some In Perry During Pump Test - Oct. 04, 2013

PERRY, Maine (WQDY NEWS) --  For the past couple of years, the Passamaquoddy Tribe along with Wright-Pierce Engineering have been exploring the feasibility of developing a new water source to replace the use of Boyden Lake, which is the water source for the Passamaquoddy Water District. (The PWD is not involved in any of the ongoing studies and tests).

Test wells have been drilled on tribal land between Southmeadow Road and the Golding Road. A three-day pump test was completed and more recently there was ten-day pump test done to satisfy a state requirement to see if there were any impacts.

And there were some.

At least two residents experienced a loss of water in their shallow wells and it appears not every nearby landowner was notified of the pump test. One household lost their water for 9-10 days and it's coming back --- but slowly.                          

The Perry Board of Selectmen held a regular meeting Tuesday night and the issue was on the agenda.

"As most of you know the Passamaquoddy Tribe came before us in October of 2011, and shared with us the ideas for the project," said Board Chair Karen Raye. "Just this past week they did their ten day pump test and there were some issues."

Marvin Cling works for the Passamaquoddy Tribe's Environmental Department. He told selectmen, "We're going to see what the study is going to tell us in terms of who we impacted. We'll see if our original idea of developing this well water for better public drinking water is going to work."

Jeffrey P. Musich, Senior Vice President with Wright-Pierce explained they've been working with the tribe for three years.

"The tribe was able to secure some money to look at whether there was an opportunity to improve the water supply. And the goal would be to find water that might be less costly to treat. Groundwater is always less costly. We looked at an aquifer in Pembroke and we found this aquifer up in Perry. It had promise," Musich said.      

"What this test is doing --  it's required by the drinking water officials in the state Dept. of Health & Human Services. This is a temporary test -- we did it for ten days. We pumped these wells really hard to see where the water would be drawing in from. Actually, the purpose of this test was to find out who might be impacted by it. We wanted to make sure there was no salt water or other contaminants," Musich said.

Then it came time to hear from those "impacted."

Jay and Tammy Pearson live on the Southmeadow Road. They have a shallow well -- about 64 feet deep.

The first signs came when they started to lose water pressure.

"After shutting the pump down for a while, I managed to get it primed again but then we kept having trouble with it," he said.

ABOVE: Dug up well at the Pearson house-WQDY NEWS PHOTO

Pearson said he replaced a valve, dug up his well because the wellhead was underground. He replaced parts, tested connections, checked the pump but ended up buying a new pump.

"And it still wouldn't come back," Pearson said.

"When I was out of options to replace it, I called Eastern Plumbing and Heating. So, of course, now I owe them money for checking out the well. They recommended I get a submersible pump because apparently the well had dropped."

This went on for most of a week.

"Day after day we're trying different things," Pearson told the board..

"So we called Lawrence Lord's well drilling because as far as we know, something happened and our well had gone dry."

Terry Lord was in the area drilling another well for someone else with a well that had gone dry.

"He stopped by, I showed him the well and he said 'I can tell you exactly what happened, they've been pumping 400,000 gallons a day up there for ten days.' So basically, I'm over $1,200, literally in the hole because nobody notified us that there was a test going on," Pearson told selectmen.

ABOVE: A temporary non-drinkable water supply brought by Terry Lord this past Monday. This was the only water the Pearson's had seen at their home in a week or so - WQDY NEWS PHOTO 

"First of all we apologize for that. I think we could have done a better job and we owe you an apology," admitted Musich. "Our goal was to try to find these things out."

Another Perry resident, Herbert McPhail told selectmen his well dropped, too.  He lives on the Shore Road.

"I've got 40 cows. Back in the 80's we had Holsteins.We used to turn the hose on the first of June and never turned it off until October and you never could drop that well. And now, it's dropping. Sometimes it'll come up a foot and sometimes it goes down three or four feet. They've been over a few times this past week testing it," McPhail said.

"The purpose of this test, if you can appreciate it, is trying to understand what was going to happen. What would be really bad would be to build something like this permanently and find out about this later. Your wells will recover, I'm confident of that," Musich told the property owners.

Chair Karen Raye then explained the roles of the selectmen in this matter.

"We have a role under the Land Use Ordinance, we're the enforcement authority on the land use ordinance and then we're also concerned about public health."

"We're sort of in a fact-finding mission so we're not commenting a lot, we're not offering our opinions here tonight, but on my fact-finding mission, how long did it take you to stop the test after you were given the "stop work order?" Raye asked Musich.   

"I think 20 minutes," Musich offered.

Code Enforcement Officer Tabitha Young countered, "He was not going to stop until it was 10 o'clock."

"There was a huge amount of money invested in this," said Musich.

"He was not going to stop for me or anybody else," Young added.

"He (on site engineer) did try to reach us over the weekend. We just weren't able to get back to talk about this. This test was very expensive and we had it pre-approved by the state so we were trying to follow what they asked us to do," said Musich.

Speaking for the selectmen, Raye said, "No decisions have been made and we're not making any of them until we have all the facts on the table. That's the advice of our legal counsel ...we'll be consulting with our legal counsel further."

After Tuesday night's meeting, the Pearson's handed over copies of documents to the representatives from Wright-Pierce detailing costs incurred before they found out their problems may well have been the unintended result of the 10-day pump test.

On Thursday, Tammy Pearson told us their water level was slowly coming up.

"We are currently at 33.7 feet. We started at 50 feet down to the water. We haven't been using it other than to flush the toilets and we only turned the pump on (Wednesday) so we're not sure how well it will rebound after we start using the normal amount."

"We have not heard a word from Wright Pierce or the Passamaquoddy Tribal representatives. (Perry Selectman) Adam Jamieson was at the house (Thursday) to follow up and check on the progress."