Town Council addressing abandoned wells

Concerned about non-compliance
Fri, 10/06/2017 - 9:15am

The Town of New Shoreham is taking measures to address concerns arising from non-compliance with town ordinances regarding discontinued or abandoned wells on Block Island. According to the Water Company’s Superintendent, a discontinued well on a homeowner’s property that isn’t in compliance could potentially lead to contamination of the town’s sole aquifer and become a public health risk.

The town’s health and sanitation ordinance states that “any well, cistern or cesspool found to be inadequately covered and maintained and/or abandoned shall be deemed dangerous to public health and safety.” It also notes that all unused or abandoned wells, “shall be filled with sand, gravel or other suitable solid material to ground level, covered and made inaccessible.” 

First Warden Ken Lacoste, who called the issue a “growing concern,” made the motion to enforce compliance of abandoned wells that was seconded by Councilor Chris Willi and unanimously approved by a 4-0 vote at the Town Council’s meeting on Monday night. Absent from the meeting was Second Warden Norris Pike.

“We may want to explore having a review of all possible locations to see if the wells are being dealt with properly,” said Lacoste, who noted that Rick Batchelder and Water Company Superintendent John Breunig brought the issue to the Council’s attention. “The concern is that when a (homeowner’s) well is discontinued it’s supposed to be dealt with by law in a responsible manner.” Lacoste said when an abandoned well isn’t sealed properly it can place the town’s aquifer in jeopardy.  

Breunig told The Block Island Times that, “This should be looked into. It’s very important to seal abandoned wells properly because we are a sole-source aquifer. The town should be proactive about identifying those sites that aren’t being used, and are discontinued, abandoned wells, and have homeowners go through the abandonment protocol. I would be glad to aid the town in addressing the issue.” Breunig noted that he has spoken with Facilities Manager Sam Bird about the issue.

Bird said, “My understanding is that it is the responsibility of the owners of the wells to decommission them.” He also said the Town Council is considering its options in addressing the issue.

Breunig said if a discontinued well isn’t “dealt with in an appropriate way it can create a conduit to contamination of the aquifer in the future. If you don’t seal it properly, pollutants can get into the well and contaminate it.” 

In order to properly cap a well, Breunig said the pump should be removed and bentonite chips should be deposited into the well. Breunig said that the bentonite chips are an expanding clay-like material that when mixed with water becomes cement. “Then you cap off the top of the well,” he said.

Breunig said the Water Company went through the process of capping its old well in June. The old well, which was installed in the 1950s and deepened in the 1960s, was capped four feet beneath the earth’s surface at the front of the Water Company’s property.

“The old well was made of steel,” said Breunig. The new well, drilled in June, is a 243 foot-deep, marine-grade stainless steel drilled well, which is located several feet from the old well. “It’s a great well,” he said. “Rick did a fabulous job installing it. It’s been our go-to well, providing a lot of water to the water district.”

Batchelder did the work on both the old well and the new one, said Breunig, noting that the discussion of addressing the island’s abandoned wells began during that time period. “Rick spoke to the Town Council members, and we got it on the agenda,” he said.

“The town has spent a lot of time and energy in protecting the aquifer,” said Breunig. “This is a great step to prevent something bad from happening.”

In other news, the Town Council unanimously approved Finance Director Amy Land’s report on the town’s general fund. Land said that the town “is only two months into” the new fiscal year that started July 31, 2017, and “things are shaping up well. Revenues have been strong.”

Through August 31: the town’s revenue for the current fiscal year-to-date is $5,115,158, while last year it was $4,868,424 for the same time period. Total expenditures for the year-to-date are $1,803,027, versus $1,831,978 last year. Land noted that 12.8 percent of the town’s budget has been used so far this year, while last year 14 percent had been used for the same period.

The Town Council also unanimously approved the awarding of the transfer station contract to Block Island Recycling Management. Interim Town Manager Shirlyne Gobern said that BIRM had the more “responsive and responsible” bid of the two bidders involved in the bidding process. 

The next Town Council meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m.