BETHEL – Standing atop a pile of boulders and splintered trees on the side of Barker Mountain, Gov. John Baldacci surveyed the impact of Wednesday night’s storms.
“You realize the scale of what happened here is enormous,” he said.
Baldacci arrived by helicopter at the Bethel Regional Airport on Monday afternoon to view the damage to the town’s water infrastructure and hear updates on the situation.
“I guess we’re very lucky that no one lost their lives,” said Baldacci as he heard reports on the situation at the Bethel Town Office.
Bethel declared a state of emergency Friday after the storms damaged routes 2, 26 and 113 and other town roads. The Bethel Water District’s reservoir and watershed on Chapman Brook, as well as the town’s Angevine Park, sustained extensive damage.
On Monday morning, due to sufficient water levels in its primary 500,000 gallon reservoir, Bethel lifted a water conservation order.
Officials recommend that residents continue to refrain from washing cars and watering flowers.
“Fortunately, we did not have a boil-water order,” said Al Hodsdon, an engineer who is consulting for the town as it repairs damage to the water system.
Bethel has received shipments of water from Poland Spring, the Rumford Water District, and Splash Inc. of Turner since the flood damage to the Bethel Water District. In addition, the Auburn Water District installed a temporary 1,500-foot pipe system Friday that brings water from a tributary brook on Barker Mountain into the existing system.
However, Hodsdon and other officials with the Bethel Water District acknowledged that the system is a temporary solution. The pipes used in the construction of the system are normally for pressure use, rather than the gravitational system the district operates on, and the difference has led to leaks at the joints.
Hodsdon said the town would need to work fast to replace or repair the water system because a drought or the winter cold will shut down the temporary system. He said he expects it can remain operational for six months.
According to Scott Parker, director of the county Emergency Management Agency, the holding reservoir on Chapman Brook can be repaired, but that action might not be the best long-term solution.
“We’re not sure if we restore the reservoir if we could continue to use it,” Hodsdon said.
One option open to the town is to sink wells at a privately owned gravel pit on North Road. Hodsdon said the site has a 75 to 80 percent assurance of supplying groundwater for the next 100 years.
Baldacci recommended that the town begin pre-engineering work at the site as soon as possible, citing an estimate that installations at the site would take about four months to install.
Officials also floated the idea of rebuilding the reservoir farther upstream on Chapman Brook.
In the afternoon, Baldacci was led through the watershed to see both the damage and the repairs that had been made.
Standing atop the holding reservoir, which was created in 1893, the governor and other officials were on the same level as the sediment that had filled it.
“The structure, believe it or not, is still intact,” said Doug Wilson, who does maintenance and forestry work in the watershed.
To reach the site, the party had to cross a pileup of boulders and trees washed down the mountain during the flooding. Wilson compared the damage to that done by the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. Chapman Brook, once pristine, flowed muddily along an altered course, which took it partially over the reservoir’s access road.
According to John Head, chairman of the water district’s board of trustees, the nearest rain gauge to the site overflowed at six inches. It is thought that the heavy rainfall washed away sediments in the watershed, eroding support for tree roots and carrying trees and boulders on a destructive path down the mountain.
Baldacci praised the town’s response to the destruction, as well as residents’ assistance with the water conservation measures.
“The citizens have done a tremendous job with conservation,” he said.