2015-07-17 / Front Page

Town to pay for tainted well

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — Ralph Hunt brought a glass with him to the July 9 meeting of the Kennebunkport Board of Selectmen and, producing it from a paper bag, passed down the table, for all the selectmen to see.

“You can feel the salt on the inside lip,” he said. “That’s what we’re dealing with right now when washing our clothes, our dishes, and ourselves.”

The interactive experience was mostly for show, however. By that point, selectmen had already agreed the town had contaminated Hunt’s well on Old Cape Road, and had agreed to dig him a new one, at an approximate cost of $7,500.

According to Hunt, tests of his well showed sodium and chloride levels that were “eight times acceptable levels.” A May 4 test conducted by Nelson Analytical Lab of Kennebunk showed the Hunts’ well water contained 2,000 milligrams per liter of chloride, far above the acceptable level of 250 mg/L.

Hunt has conducted regular tests of his well in the spring and fall since 2008, when he spent $3,300 to have a water softening system installed.

“That system produced minimal improvement initially, but has been ineffectual the last three to four years,” Hunt wrote in a June 2 request for relief.

In a June 30 memo, Public Works Director Michael Claus backed Hunt’s request, noting Hunt had first complained to him nearly one year ago. At that time, Claus checked with Cindy Thayer, chief geohydrologist at R. W. Gillespie & Associates, of Saco, which in the past has tested the town’s landfill.

Thayer discounted contamination of the Hunts’ well from the landfill on Beachwood Avenue, or from the old highway barn at the corner of Beachwood and Old Cape Road. However, the data did suggest an impact from snow clearing operations on the Hunts’ well, which is just 33 feet from the road, Claus said.

“It does look like, from the variance of chloride over the seasons since the well’s been tested, both spring and fall, it is an indication that it probably is contamination from salt on the roadside,” Claus said. “And it appears under state law we are responsible if we do contaminate a well.”

However, while the town may be culpable, it appears the town’s insurance agent is not.

In a June 26 letter, Pennsylvania-based Glatfelter Claims Management, acting on behalf of Kennebunkport’s general liability carrier, American Alternative Insurance Corporation, denied a claim filed by Hunt.

“While this is unfortunate, there is not documentation to confirm whether this was the result of road salt, sea salt, or due to age and deterioration of your water well,” Glatfelter Liability Specialist William Reed wrote, pointing out that the Hunts’ well is 40 years old.

“It is possible the outer casing may have cracked or deteriorated due to wear and tear which has allowed salt to enter your well,” Reed wrote. “There is no substantial proof that our insured was negligent in this matter.”

However, Town Manager Laurie Smith, for one, seemed impressed with the documentation provide by Hunt.

“Sometimes there are claims made about well contamination and you have to walk very carefully and do a lot of thorough examination before you accept that,” she said. “This would be, in my 25 years (in public administration), probably the first time that I feel we have had contamination.

“We have a good history,” Smith said. “This is not someone who did one test and is coming forward. I think it is an unusual case or I wouldn’t have brought it before you.”

That seemed enough for most selectmen, who quickly acceded to the $7,500 funding request. Claus said his public works crew will dig the trench for the connection line, which will be placed about 150 feet from the road. The well itself will be drilled, and the pump system installed, by John Henry Swett of Lyman.

“I think it’s probably the right thing to do,” Selectman Allen Daggett said.

However, not all of his peers were so easily inclined to open up the public purse strings.

“While I am inclined to say I would support such a thing, I would prefer to understand any potentiality from precedent-setting without specific and direct cause attribution,” Selectmen Stuart Barwise said.

In other words, Barwise wanted a mother-may-I from the town attorney, lest the decision to help the Hunts open a figurative floodgate on contaminated well claims.

Selectmen unanimously agreed 4-0, with Edward Hutchins absent, to pay for the new well, but only pending review of the Hunt’s claim by town attorney Amy Tchao, of the Portland firm Drummond Woodsum.

“I don’t see where she should disagree,” Chairman Sheila Matthews Bull could be heard saying on an open microphone, immediately after the vote.

“Well, there are a couple of issues I do see,” Barwise replied, although he did not elaborate.

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