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After decades of living with contaminated water, Durham residents may finally see some relief. According to Edward Hathaway, the project manager for the Durham Meadows Waterline Project, work on establishing a waterline from Middletown to Durham should take place in early August.
The Durham Meadows project began in 2007 when Laura Francis, first selectwoman of Durham, first took office. The project was designed to provide Durham residents and commercial buildings with clean water free of contaminants. Those contaminants had leaked into the bedrock under Durham due to industrial processes at the former Durham Manufacturing Co. and Merriam Manufacturing Co., as early as the 1970s.
“In my process of trying to learn what the status was, the state of Connecticut said ‘Well, we need to do a feasibility study to find out where the clean water can come from. Would you be interested in applying for a grant to do that study?,’” Francis said. “I then said ‘The public needs to be a part of this.’ So we had a meeting and that’s when it became very clear to me how frustrated and frightened that our residents were having properties affected by the contamination.”
Francis said from then on she “pledged to keep this on the front burner.”
In a presentation given to the town of Durham in April, it was noted that the major contaminant of the area is trichloroethylene (TCE), a chemical that the Center for Disease Control describes as carcinogenic.
In order to provide residents and commercial buildings with clean water, Durham was given the greenlight to create a waterline from Middletown to Durham. The entire cost of the project is estimated to be around $35 million according to Francis and will be entirely paid for by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The plans for the waterline cover a large portion of Durham, as Francis and the EPA aim to not only provide clean water to homes in the contaminated “plume” area, but also in the buffer zone outside of the plume.
“What the EPA intended to do was hook up homes in that buffer zone where they believe the plume is going to travel,” Francis said. “They want to try to make this as permanent a solution as possible. There will be properties that currently have a clean well hooked up because they’re in that zone.”
Francis noted that the reality was “a little difficult” for some property owners to accept. In fact, there are approximately five people living in the buffer zone who haven’t signed the paperwork to connect their wells to the new waterline, according to Hathaway.
“If they don’t connect they could be found in violation of the town’s ground water ordinance,” Hathaway said.
The ordinance, established in 2016, prohibits the use of groundwater within the “groundwater management” or buffer zone. Failure to comply, or to receive an exception, could land property owners with a $250 per-day fine. Those who wish to connect their wells after construction is completed will have to pay the cost of connecting their properties.
The homes in the immediate plume area stretch from the western portion of Main Street by Talcott Lane down to Allyn Millpond. Francis also said that the plume had stretched to Maple Avenue, with two homes there affected.
The buffer zone encompasses the area near town hall down towards New Haven Road, Pickett Lane, the Korn School and Coginchaug High School.
“This provides us with opportunity for growth,” Francis said. “We have commercial properties looking at Durham but they’re waiting for water.”
Francis also said that while she didn’t know the exact number, she knew that property values in the plume have certainly taken a hit.
Most of the construction for the project will be done overnight between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“We really depend on our residents’ patience,” Francis said.
Jesse Allen, owner of Leaning Oak Farms on Maiden Lane in Durham, is one of the property owners being hooked up to the new waterline.
“Nothing has impacted us yet. I am a little bit skeptical of using the water for irrigation purposes because it has chlorine and fluoride in it,” Allen said.
Despite his skepticism, Allen said that Durham was “great” in terms of working with him and his family.
“Our property is actually named after that leaning oak,” said Allen, pointing to a tall leaning tree and explaining that the town had diverted the entire line around it. “They were very helpful.”