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By Tim Cox, BDN Staff | April 22, 2014, at 12:47 p.m. | Last modified April 22, 2014, at 4:44 p.m.
PERRY, Maine — The Perry Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Monday evening to extend a moratorium that temporarily blocks water exploration activities being conducted by the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point.
The proposed extension of the moratorium, put in place for 180 days last fall, did not generate any opposition or controversy.
Five people attended Monday’s public hearing that the board convened on the proposed extension, but the selectmen received no public comments, according to board chairman Karen Raye.
Since voters approved the moratorium at a special town meeting in November, a committee has been at work drafting an ordinance to regulate water exploration activities.
The committee of about 12 people has made good progress, according to Raye. “I’m hoping there is a possibility we could wrap it up in May,” she said Tuesday. If a proposed ordinance is approved by the selectmen in May, Perry citizens may be able to vote on it during the June 10 primary election, she said.
The tribe has a representative on the committee, and Raye said it also was informed of the public hearing.
The moratorium extension does not delay the tribe’s water project, she said. “I don’t think they’re really concerned about us taking a few more weeks.”
Tribe officials did not return calls seeking comment.
The action approved by the board on Monday extends the moratorium on “large scale groundwater extraction activities” for 180 days or until the town adopts an ordinance.
The original moratorium was approved by a 43-0 vote at a special town meeting Nov. 4 and took effect immediately.
The tribe, dissatisfied with the quality of water supplied by the Passamaquoddy Water District, a public utility that serves the reservation and the city of Eastport, has developed several exploratory wells in the town. In late September it conducted tests, pumping out water for 10 days in order to determine the capacity of the wells and the effect on the aquifer. Several Perry residents complained to town officials that those pump-out tests reduced the water level in their wells and tainted the quality of their water. Town officials issued a stop work order at the conclusion of the pump-out tests.
State officials received the tribe’s application for approval of wells in late February, according to Roger Crouse, director of Maine’s drinking water program at the Department of Health and Human Services. State officials sent the tribe a letter on April 16 requesting additional information, he said. Once the additional information is obtained, the permit could be approved within 30 days, according to Crouse.
The tribe is seeking approval of “at least two” wells for public water, including one back-up well, Crouse said Tuesday.
The tribe’s application is “kind of unique,” noted Crouse, because it is seeking to develop a new source of water for an existing water district.
In addition, the tribe is partnering with the federal government to pay for the project. “There’s just a lot of need for communicating and coming to a consensus for what they’re trying to do there,” said Crouse.
The tribe also would have to negotiate an agreement to sell water to the Passamaquoddy Water District.
The entire project, including building a treatment plant and installing a water line, would cost $4-5 million and take several years to complete, according to tribe officials. It would be financed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.