State to fund water line design amid stalled talks with Saint-Gobain

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BENNINGTON >> The state will pay $2 million to complete the final design of a project that would extend public water lines to affected homes. And local legislators say they plan to file a bill that would make individuals who contaminate drinking water with PFOA liable for paying.

The state's Department of Environmental Conservation will pay for the final design of a water line extension project because Saint-Gobain, the company DEC believes is responsible for the contamination, has not committed to pay for the costs, according to DEC Commissioner Alyssa Schuren.

"They are not moving as quickly as you want or that we are," Schuren told attendees of a community meeting at Bennington College on Wednesday night. "We haven't given up hope, but we need to pick up the pace."

Schuren said the multinational company was a "good partner" early on and paid for bottled water, water testing and filter systems. But she described frustration that talks between DEC and the company stalled in the last couple of months.

"We will continue to work to hold the company responsible and ultimately have them reimburse the state for those costs," Schuren said.

Schuren said talks between DEC and Saint-Gobain have resumed and meetings are scheduled in the coming weeks.

That big of a project was pegged to cost at least $32 million and Schuren said it could rise to $40 million.

It's a matter of who's going to pick up the tab, said state Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington. The North Bennington resident and former Bennington Select Board member said his constituents need clean drinking water.

"If we can't do it through negotiations, we can do it through legislation," Sears said.

Sears and state Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, said they are working on new legislation that would make people liable for PFOA contamination in private wells. The senators said a bill they plan to file this winter would require individuals to pay costs associated with extending municipal water lines to impacted homes, if they released the chemical into the environment.

"Our goal is to make our communities whole," Campion said. "I think all of our concerns is that this could go on and on."

Over 60 residents and state and local officials attended the community meeting in the Tishman Auditorium at Bennington College. It was the latest of several held since PFOA, a man-made chemical once used to make Teflon, was found in private wells around North Bennington in February. Known as perfluorooctanoic acid, or C8, it's been linked to cancers and other diseases.

Since then, DEC has been sampling private wells to determine just how far the contamination has spread in groundwater.

"It took us months to figure out the full extent of the problem, and I think we're finally there," said Chuck Schwer, director of DEC's Waste Management and Prevention Division.

Schwer said 541 samples have been taken from private wells in seven months. Of those, 266 had PFOA in amounts higher than 20 parts per trillion (ppt), the state's limit. Contractors installed 244 "point-of-entry" (POET) systems on private wells and another 11 will be soon online.

The state began re-sampling wells after Saint-Gobain did not meet DEC's September deadline to start those efforts, Schwer said.

Shannon Tatro, public health nurse and supervisor with the state Department of Health, said two more blood clinics will be held: Nov. 14 from 1 to 8 p.m., and Nov. 15 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the DOH office at 324 Main St.

Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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