E. coli in Caribou’s water system affects businesses, school

7 months ago

This story has been updated.

CARIBOU, Maine — More than 1,000 residents and businesses in Caribou are under a boil order for their drinking water after the Caribou Utilities Districts’ boilers tested positive for E. coli Thursday.

The State of Maine Drinking Water Program posted the test results late Thursday morning. 

That means many businesses that actively use drinking water might have to close, or use other water sources, like bottled water. Schools were dismissed early Thursday.

Ruska Coffee Co. co-owner Tamara Lovewell said she and her husband Lance closed their shop immediately after getting a notice from the utilities district Thursday afternoon.

Caribou Utilities District General Manager Hugh Kirkpatrick said he expects results from follow-up tests to be released Friday. 

“We’ll reopen once everything is in the clear,” Tamara Lovewell said.

Kirkpatrick said his staff was posting the boil water order on the doors of businesses and residences around town Thursday afternoon.

Residents should boil water for at least a minute before using it for drinking, making ice cubes, washing foods, brushing teeth or any other activity that requires consumption, according to an order issued Thursday by the Caribou Utilities District.

Around town, restaurants who are utility district customers have been using other means to stay open.

“We are using bottled water and if we need to we’ll boil water for one minute before cooking,” said Sare Kinsey, shift manager at Evergreen Lanes and Rendezvous Restaurant on Access Highway.

Main Street restaurant Frederick’s Southside is also using bottled water and is only using water for cooking that is boiled one minute, said Paul Hanson, who runs the business with his mother, Michelle Hanson.

The Par & Grill Restaurant, also on Access Highway, remains open because it uses well water and is not tied into the city water system, bartender Amanda Schurman said.

The E. coli contamination has also affected RSU 39, the school district serving Caribou and Stockholm.

After learning of the test results Thursday morning, the district shut off all water fountains and gave students bottled water, District Executive Secretary Laurie Chapman said.

But shutting off the district’s boiler system caused sewer lines to overflow in the bathrooms, Chapman said. She did not specify which school was affected.

Both schools were dismissed at 1:45 p.m., she said. Schools were already planned to be closed Friday because of a professional development day for staff. A contractor is working on the sewer problems, which the district hopes to have repaired by Monday.

Since news of the test results broke, all three grocery stores in Caribou have reported selling out of bottled and distilled water.

Jeremy Redman, store manager at Hannaford, said he sold out around 3:30 p.m. Thursday and expects from 11 to 14 more palettes of water to arrive tomorrow.

At Kinney’s IGA, store manager Scott Hewitt said all bottled and distilled water sold out around 2:30. He is hoping to receive four more palettes by 10 a.m. Friday.

“We’re cleared out. Not one case is left,” Hewitt said. “People started coming in as soon as they heard.”

To keep Sleeper’s Market from selling out too quickly, the store is limiting customers to one case each. Around 40 to 50 cases of bottled and distilled water remained as of late Thursday afternoon, owner David Sleeper said.

Caribou Utilities District has 1,600 residential and business customers, Kirkpatrick said.