UPDATED

Thomaston pollution control searching for source of sewage leak

By Beth A. Birmingham | Sep 07, 2017
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Thomaston resident Nancy Baker stands upwind from the creek that flows past her home at 66 Hyler St. A noxious sewage odor has been wafting from it for a week now, and she wants answers.

Thomaston — At the Sept. 11 selectmen's meeting, Pollution Control Superintendent John Fancy said his department, public works, and the code office are exhausting all remedies in the search for the cause of a raw sewage leak in a clean water drain system. He said the mysterious flow suddenly stopped Saturday, Sept. 9, but they still do not know where it came from.

The St. George River was closed again Tuesday, Sept. 5, and remains closed following a report from the Thomaston Pollution Control Department to the Department of Marine Resources confirming the raw sewage leak.

According to the report released by Bryant Lewis of DMR, as of Sept. 6, samples tested showed an E. coli bacteria count so elevated it failed the Environmental Protection Agency primary standards.

Two main areas of concern lay within 4,590 feet of clean water drains with 10 manholes serving Hyler Street, among others.

Resident Nancy Baker, who lives at 66 Hyler St., reported the smell of sewage to Thomaston Pollution Control Aug. 30 -- the day the river was closed the first time for 24 hours.

It was suspected there had been a leak from the Thomaston Wastewater Plant via a broken pipe. However, after the DMR confirmed that that was not the case, the river was reopened Aug. 31.

Baker said even after the recent hard rainfall, the smell had intensified.

"My whole property smells like a cesspool," she said.

Her property is situated beside a creek that has the clean water drainage system with a catchbasin. Upon further investigation, the discharge from the system outfall did not have an odor, but the catchbasin with the outfall had a sewage odor.

Neighbors had indicated to the Pollution Control Department that the creek had been dry until about the middle of August, when the current flow began.

When Baker began having a stomachache, she became even further concerned and took water samples to Maine Water. The results indicated "contaminants may cause health risks either quickly or over a long period of time in relation to the Maine CDC Guidelines."

"Let's get real," she said. "It hasn't dissipated; if anything, it's gotten worse,"

Baker said she was told by surveyors last week that they could see actual waste floating in the creek.

"I want to be able to open my windows," she said, holding her breath from the stench in her yard.

She believes the constant traffic from the heavy construction trucks has caused the damage somewhere along the line.

"My house vibrates when they go by," she said.

On Sept. 6, Lewis said the Thomaston Pollution Control Department now suspects an inactive pipe in the area to be the source of the pollution.

The clean water drains are the old sewers that were left after the new sanitary sewers were installed in the early 1990s.

"It is still early in their investigation, and some of their results make it hard to pinpoint the source yet," Lewis said.

"The origin of the water and bacteria in the inactive line has not been determined, but they are working through possible means to rule out different sources," Lewis explained.

"Based on this new information, we re-closed the conditional areas of the upper river again for shellfishing, and we will continue to monitor the situation and its resolution before reopening the water," he said.

At the Sept. 11 meeting, Fancy said gravel got into a catchbasin and plugged the drain, and it was when it backed up into an area house that they discovered the blockage.

“We have been smoke-testing various lines,” Fancy said. “The fact that it stopped is going to make it doubly difficult to identify.”

Town Manager Valmore Blastow asked how an amount of 20,000 gallons a day, or 15 gallons per minute, could happen suddenly.

“We are looking for a point-source discharge,” Fancy said. “The volume just doesn't make sense.”

The DEP and DMR both report to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Fancy noted. And all are involved in solving this mystery.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

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