The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is investigating what state prison officials plan to do to mitigate a problem of wastewater runoff that is believed to be causing high bacterial counts in the water at Ahern State Park.
The state Department of Corrections has until Oct. 3 to respond to an EPA letter that requests initial information on the pollution situation currently facing the prison system’s Lakes Region Facility on Route 106.
Joy Hilton of the EPA’s Region One Office in Boston confirmed on Wednesday that her agency has sent a request to prison officials seeking information on a problem that has resulted in contamination in Lake Winnisquam.
Hilton described the letter as a standard "starting point" for her agency in seeking information about situations that could warrant EPA action. She said the letters are designed to give the EPA a better understanding of what is going on and the schedule for what needs to be done to correct problems.
DOC Spokesman Jeff Lyons confirmed that the department has received the letter, which he said asks them to respond to a number of technical questions about the wastewater layout at the facility.
On June 29 state Department of Environmental Services(DES) officials told the Ahern State Park Advisory Committee(ASPAC) that a study conducted in the spring and summer of 2003 showed that sewage from the prison was leaching into the lake due to leaking "vitrified" clay stormwater/sewer pipes that were installed in the early 1900s.
Paul Currier of the DES Water Division said the problem contributed to high E. coli counts at Ahern State Park’s beaches, which are adjacent to prison facility.
DES experts estimated that a long-term fix to the problem could cost upwards of $300,000, a prospect that had local officials concerned about when the state would act to mitigate the problem.