The Spring Street Well

At the Ashland Historical Society one of our main sources of recorded history is the Ashland Advertiser. We have original copies of the publication which gives us a first hand glimpse of what life was like in the 1800’s. It is fun to read how “Officer Tidsbury took four tramps into court for manipulating doors and furniture in the Ashland lockup. They evidently wanted warmer quarters and got it in a three months sentence to the house of correction” (Ashland Advertiser, February 3rd, 1893). That publication has long gone by way of the steam locomotive, but has been replaced in part by the papers you see today: The Middlesex News and the Ashland Directions.

It is easy to see the parallels between them. Horse and wagon accidents are replaced with automobile wrecks, disorderly citizens are disorderly no matter when, and problems that the community faces today are remarkably similar to those in 1867. I guess the adage that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is true.

Today’s story is from the Ashland Direction’s March 1993 issue regarding the settlement of the cleanup of the Spring Street Well. Everyone knows that water, or the availability of it, was a hot topic back then and still is. This is now 2012, and Ashland still has only one source of water. And it comes from the Howe Street Well.

Located adjacent to the Hopkinton Reservoir, the Howe Street Well is a new pumping and treatment facility that serves Ashland and part of Hopkinton in a deal with our neighbors I never fully understood. There are two other locations that were considered: The old town well near Shore and Wenzell Roads, and the Spring Street Well next to the Ashland Reservoir. Unfortunately, the water from the old town well required extensive treatment that was considered too expensive, leaving Spring Street as the only alternative. That’s when problems at this location began.

What’s wrong with Spring Street? It’s this pesky little chemical called trichloroethylene, or TCE. Commonly used as an industrial solvent, trace amounts of TCE were found in the samples taken from the well. The next logical question would be where did it come from? As is turns out, there is an asphalt plant adjacent to the well. The owners at the time (1993) were Bardon-Trimount, and TCE was used in the testing process of the materials produced at the plant. The source of the water contamination was traced back to Bardon-Trimount’s facility. It should be noted that the site served as an asphalt plant prior to Bardon-Trimount’s ownership, but they were the owners of record at the time of the discovery of TCE in the well.

How contaminated was it? Tests showed the level of TCE was 15 parts per billion (ppb), but not more than 50 ppb. The accepted level at the time, if anything is really acceptable, was 5 ppb. The next step was to determine the method of cleaning the site, and if the water was potable through some filtering process. The Town, using (then) Town Manager Paul Sharon, negotiated a settlement with Bardon-Trimount. A lump sum payment of $675,000.00 was to be paid to the Town for a carbon filtration system to be installed in the Spring St. facility, and an annual stipend of $85,950.00 to cover maintenance and operation. Carbon filtration was the method of choice at the time, and used by other communities.

Here is where it becomes cloudy. This whole negotiated “deal” required Town Meeting approval. Scanning the warrant for the May 1993 Town Meeting, I found that the Board of Selectmen sponsored “Article 9, Spring Street Well,” and showed that that the Finance Committee recommended passage of the article. I’m not sure what the vote was, but I am assuming it failed at Town Meeting. I made a few inquiries as to the status of the project and found that not all of the Town Officials at the time were convinced that this was a permanent solution. Apparently, extensive testing for well capacity was performed and the TCE problem worsened. More studies were warranted, and at the Special Town Meeting held on November 11th of 1993 the sum of $7,943.00 was appropriated to “review alternative scenarios at Spring Street.”

Again, it is 2012, and there is no pumping and treatment facility on Spring Street, so I’ll add another popular adage: “Everything that goes around comes around.” I hear we are looking at the Spring St. Well again…

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
July 2012