DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The town of Atkinson’s salt and sand pile could add another roadblock to the town’s plans to deorganize and become an unorganized territory, Piscataquis County Commissioners learned last week.

One of the conditions that towns must adhere to in order to deorganize and give up local government is to be free of any debt and potential liability. So the status of the salt and sand pile was brought to the attention of the commissioners by a Department of Environmental Protection water staff member and Marcia McInnis, the financial administrator for the Department of Revenue Services’ Unorganized Territories Division.

Erich Kluck from the DEP’s Bureau of Land and Water Quality said that the problem stems from the proximity of the salt and sand pile to two private wells: one 500 feet away and another one 1,500 feet from the pile.

Kluck said that the closest well was not sampled during a routine evaluation in 1999 “because it was a seasonal camp at that time. There was no one there. The next well that was sampled was the next house further down.”

County Manager Marilyn Tourtelotte said that the well closest to the salt and sand pile “was the one that should have been sampled and wasn’t.”

She explained that the DEP sets priorities on the status of wells from 1 to 5.

“One of the conditions was that if a well within 500 feet showed contamination, then it increased the priorities, and there would be different responsibilities for the appropriate parties,” according to Tourtelotte.

Kluck said that in this instance, the cutoff for a Priority 3 and Priority 4 rating was a “well containing greater than 20 milligrams per liter of chloride. If so, it would have been given a Priority 3 designation. But it was below 20 milligrams per liter in 1999 when everything was reassessed, so [the well 1,500 feet away] was left as a Priority 4.”

State law once required that all sand and salt piles be enclosed, and towns were reimbursed for the cost by the Maine Department of Transportation, Kluck said.

“But the Legislature [in 1999] didn’t want to pay for all those buildings … so everything was reassessed that year. The priorities 1 through 3 are now required to put buildings up and the 4’s and 5’s are exempt indefinitely. In this instance, Atkinson remained a Priority 4,” he said.

McInnis said that inspections at the site “showed that vegetation was severely damaged. So between 1986 and 1999, the reports showed progression in contamination, at least to the vegetation.”

Complicating matters somewhat is the ownership of the land in and around the vicinity of the salt pile. McInnis said that records show the acreage was owned by logging contractor Prentiss & Carlisle and deeded to the town in 1999.

“I think it’s important for the commissioners to get that deed from the registry to know definitively who owns that salt pile,” McInnis said.

Kluck said that the pile “will go away if [the town] gets deorganized. And that can only be the start of improvement with this property.”

But Kluck said that he recommends that the well nearest to the salt pile be tested and that DEP officials do a trained conductivity survey to assess the concentration of any sodium chloride.

“But it needs to get done before it snows,” Kluck said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to look into the logistics of the testing and more information may be forthcoming at their next meeting.

Atkinson has voted on deorganization three times in the last 16 years with mixed results. The first attempt in 1997 failed at the polls, but voters approved deorganization in 2002 and 2004, only to have the plan rejected by the Legislature. The town missed a deadline this year to submit a deorganization plan, so state officials have taken over the process.