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Quoddy Tides
Eastport, Maine
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December 25, 2015     Quoddy Tides
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December 25, 2015
 

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25 December, 2015 THE QUODDY TIDES Page 17 SOLUTION EYED FOR BUCKS HARBOR WATER CONTAMINATION also used jointly with the Federal Avia- tion Administration (FAA) as an airways radar facility. In 1979, the USAF official- ly turned the facility over to the FAA but retained government personnel there as radar operators. In 1981, the Department of Defense replaced the last active duty USAF members with civilian radar opera- tors, ending a 30-year military presence in Bucks Harbor. Today, military long-range radar data are still collected and fed via a joint link to a USAF facility in Syracuse, N.Y., and to the FAA's Boston Regional Traffic Control Center. During the USAF tenure, in addition to the large white radar globe and antennae array, the grounds included a recreation facility, dining hall and 27 houses that served as quarters for military personnel and their families. In 1981 the last com- missioned officer for the station, Major Richard Bahr, presented the Machiasport Historical Society with an informal record book that documented the 907th Radar Squadron's 27 years in Bucks Harbor. Bahr at that time said, "For myself and all the military currently at Bucks Harbor, we hope the scrapbook will be a worthy addi- tion to your archives. We feel the Air Force should not pass from the scene without leaving something behind." As time would soon prove, the USAF left more than a scrapbook behind when it left Bucks Harbor. In September 1984, the State of Maine purchased the area around the radar in- staUation and established the Downeast Correctional Facility (DCF). The build- ings on the station grounds were adapted to house inmates in what was classified then as a minimum-security facility. The housing units were also utilized as resi- dences for guards and storage. At that th-ne, the Department of Corrections over- saw all operations and maintenance of ue buildings within the area. Contamination found In 1991, the U.S. Army Corps of Engi- neers (USACE) was designated by the Maine Department of Environmental Pro- tection (DEP) to oversee the examination and potential cleanup of four military sites, including the Bucks Harbor facility. The plan was initiated in 1993 with abud- get of $1.3 million to cover all four sites. Following protocol, in 1994 the removal of above-ground and underground storage tanks commenced. At the bottom of Howard Mountain contractors excavated 27 fuel tanks dating back 42 years to when the housing units were built. It was dis- covered that many of these tanks were leaking and contaminated the ground in the area. It was suspected that traces of the spillage seeped into nearby wells. After an analysis was performed, the DEP iden- tified 11 contaminants associated with the former radar station, including fuel oil, lead and trichloroethylene (TCE). TCE was the standard cleaning agent for equipment used in radar surveillance. It was common practice to dispose of the chemical in dry wells, as no one at that time knew of its potential to contaminate groundwater. TCE has since been classi- fied as a known carcinogen. Subsequently, in 1995, further testing determined 15 private wells in the area were contaminated with TCE. Point-of- entry charcoal filtration systems were im- mediately installed at the affected residences, during which time the state and federal agencies could determine the scope of the problem and quickly develop a course of action. This is where the waiting begins. At a town meeting in June 1996, repre- sentatives from the DEP and the USACE presented information on the situation. First Selectman Bill Prescott chaired the meeting. "They used this substance to clean the radar units, and they were pretty careless about the way they disposed of it," Prescott said. The USACE indicated they would be drilling 16 test wells for future monitoring. They also indicated that the investigation and remediation would be done under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, which would pro- vide for an expanded effort in environ- mental restoration. This would include future study, continued well monitoring and identifying and remediating sources of contamination while evaluating the pos- sibility of providing a public water supply to the affected residents. Saga continues Fast forward to 2003. During informa- tional meetings, the residents were told the nature of the testing process, where the plume -- area of contamination -- was, and that it was stable. The USACE presented the DEP with five potential so- lutions. Of these five, the DEP refused three of them, stating they did not address the cleanup of the aquifer. The other two involved alternative water supplies. At the time the filtration systems were provided, affected residents balked at any perma- nent solution, as it would involve capping existing wells and requiring restrictions on property deeds. In 2009, another series of public meet- ings was held to discuss the current status of the project. The town residents rescind- ed their earlier decision to use their water as they saw fit. They now wanted an alter- native supply of water and expected the USACE to provide that, while a long-term solution to possibly clean the aquifer was developed. After years of testing and analysis, it was determined that cleaning the aquifer was not possible, and more harm would be done because of fractures within the bedrock and the potential to spread the contaminant. It was further determined that natural attenuation would eventually remove the TCE. Shortly afterward, the Jasper Beach Water Authority (JBWA), a previously appointed resident advisory board, was formed to provide official representation on behalf of the affected homes. This group was incorporated in December 2013 and would ultimately negotiate the final planned correction to the problem. For 20 years bottled water and filtration devices have been supplied to four homes in the Bucks Harbor area and one at Mill- er MOuntain. Since the initial discovery in 1995, there have been dozens of meet- ings, reviews, test drillings, residential wells monitored, newspaper articles and plenty of talk. To date, the USACE has spent $11.3 million on this project. Vincent Dinan, a 16-year resident of Machiasport and the secretary/treasurer of the JBWA, says, "Back in the beginning of this mess, the government simply want- ed to provide bottled water in perpetuity to the homes involved and call it a day. We are fortunate to finally be close at hand to a long-term solution to our water sup- ply issue." Pipeline proposed There now appears to be a formal deci- sion coming on the Bucks Harbor water remediation. Marie Wojtas, USACE project manager, the sixth since this saga PROBLEM (from page 1 ) LOCATED in the Howard Mountain area of Machiasport sits the white globe housing the radar equipment, and below are some of the 27 empty housing units of the former Bucks Harbor Air Force Radar Station. The houses, now abandoned, sit in a confirmed contamination site awaiting their fate while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares to present to the town a decision document outlining the project that will supply clean water to those homes affected by the contamination. Those residents and others are hoping this is the beginning of the final chapter to this long story. (RJ Heller photo) started, indicates there is a plan to provide sought for this property as part of the pro- the residences involved with a long-term posed plan and decision document. The solution and supply of clean water. At a LUC will likely recommend that USACE town meeting in early 2016, the USACE be notified in advance of any new well will present the proposed plan and deci- drilled on this property and also notified sion document to construct a water pipe- of any future redevelopment plans." line that will connect all the affected Today, the sampling plan for Bucks homes directly to the public water used by Harbor involves monitoring 17 residential the Downeast Correctional Facility. This wells, many of them showing levels be- water supply has its own station and is low the Environmental Protection Agency tested on a regular basis. The line could maximum contaminant level. There are 13 handle up to 10 homes if needed, test wells and one public water supply, for The future of the 27 houses where all the DCF, which receives daily testing. At this issue started is now in the hands of the a recent JBWA meeting, it was agreed State of Maine. The Town of Machiasport that effort should now be on establishing does have first right of refusal if the state negotiating points with the USACE. decides to sell the property. Before the Dinan states, "We must be diligent but contamination was found, there were dis- careful at the same time; there is only so cussions about potential uses for the prop- much money the USACE has been allot- erty, such as a senior citizen housing ted. Back when this whole thing started, if development or a recycling center. Wojtas legislation would have been earmarked for comments, "The USACE has no owner- this cleanup, things no doubt would have ship rights for this property. It is anticipat- gone a whole lot quicker, and we wouldn't ed that a land use control (LUC) will be be sitting here." Jacksonvi lie Bridge replacement planned The Maine Department of Transporta- During construction of the new bridge, tion (DOT) is seeking a permit from the traffic will be maintained using a tempo- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New En- rary bridge that will be built upstream of gland District, to conduct work in con- the existing bridge. junction with the replacement of the Construction at the site will impact es- Jacksonville Bridge in East Machias. sential fish habitat for Atlantic salmon. The DOT proposes to place permanent The corps has made a preliminary deter- and temporary fill below the ordinary high mination that the site-specific adverse ef- water line of the East Machias River and fect will not be substantial. Public in adjacent freshwater wetlands in order comments referencing this permit request to facilitate the replacement of the deteri- -- file # NAE-2015-02226 -- should be orated bridge on Route 191. The proposed forwarded no later than Friday, January 8, project will result in approximately 500 to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New square feet of permanent river bed impact, England District, Maine Project Office, 1,650 square feet of temporary river bed Attn: Jay Clement, 675 Western Avenue impact, 4,600 square feet of temporary #3, Manchester, ME 04351. Additional in- wetland impact, 3,900 square feet of per- formation is available from Permit Project manent wetland impact and 3,800 square Manager Jay Clement at 623-8367 or by e- feet of cover type conversion, mailing . Profile Tractor & Equipment carries a FULL LINE of Kioti tractors and backhoes. From the CS 2410 to the PX 9020 we can provide you with the right tractor to get the job done! 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