Houlton Mobile Home Park. Credit: Jen Lynds / BDN

HOULTON, Maine — Mobile home park residents in Houlton whose water has been contaminated for four years with high levels of per- and-polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS could get relief sometime next year at the earliest.

Houlton Town Council has authorized an application for up to $1 million with Maine’s Community Development Block Grant program to help fund new water and sewer lines into the Houlton Mobile Home Park.

Mobile home park residents have been using bottled drinking water for the past four years after a February 2018 sample from the park’s well confirmed that the amount of PFAS was above the health advisory level of 20 parts per trillion set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. People are using the well water for bathing and laundry. 

Located off Old Woodstock Road, near Houlton International Airport, the park has about 55 lots on roughly 19 acres. It is owned by Tony Brettkelly of TBK Maine Properties, according to the town office.

“This has been an ongoing issue since my arrival,” said Houlton Town Manager Marian Anderson, who came on board in January 2019. 

The application, being filed on behalf of Houlton Water Co., would fund a new sewer line that would service not only the mobile home park, but also upgrade the sewer line for the town’s industrial park at an estimated cost of $756,850.

In addition, Houlton Water Co. would create a new water main for this area, thanks to a grant from the Maine Safe Drinking Water program. The estimated cost is $1.8 million.

“The Houlton Mobile Home Park has PFAS levels above the current interim standard of 20 parts per trillion in their drinking water, and the owner is providing bottled water to the residents while working toward a solution,” said Amy Lachance, drinking water program manager.

The latest tests, taken Nov. 11, 2021, showed the well water contained PFAS levels of 183 parts per trillion, she said.

The Drinking Water Program would provide $3.87 million of state revolving funds to the Houlton Water Co. to extend its service area, allowing the mobile home park and other area users to access municipal water, Lachance said.

One of the stipulations for the state money is that the mobile home park owner must spend $494,000 to replace the park’s water distribution system, which would eliminate approximately 80,000 gallons per day in leaks and other problems, Lachance said.  

If the owner does not agree to fund the 25 percent, the work will not move forward, according to Greg Sherman, the general manager of the Houlton Water Co. Once the water main is created, the water company will take over ownership and management of that line. 

Assuming the town is successful in receiving the funding, the best-case scenario for the new water and sewer lines to be installed is sometime in 2023, Sherman said.

“This grant would facilitate work on the sewer and to put in a new [water] main at the end of the Old Woodstock Road where there have been some issues,” said Nancy Ketch, the economic and community development director for Houlton. “This project would help alleviate some of the health and safety issues that have been experienced by what tends to be an underserved population.”

The project is really two separate issues — water and sewer — but both are interconnected, Sherman said. The company cannot simply install a new sewer line without also addressing the contaminated water problem.

“The Maine Drinking Water Program approached us to try and solve the water issue,” Sherman said. “The project would invest upward of $2 million into the Houlton Water Co.’s system by replacing an outdated 10-inch main with a new 12-inch main.”

The Mobile Home Park was once connected to Houlton Water Co. for its water supply, but discontinued that service, partly because the water line had numerous leaks that were too costly for the owner to repair and it was too expensive for residents to continue paying high water bills, Sherman said.

The mobile home park is a customer of Houlton Water Co. for its sewer. Sherman said that means the contaminated water coming from the park’s sewer is creating a higher than normal amount of PFAS in its sludge, which is disposed of at Casella’s landfill in Old Town.

“This new line would alleviate all of the problems and also provide safe drinking water for those folks at the Houlton Mobile Home Park,” Sherman said. “It would also replace infrastructure that was built back during World War II.”