Editor's note: This story was amended on Jan. 17 at 10:17 a.m.
BENNINGTON — Citing neighborhood opposition, state environmental officials have revised a plan to use the Route 279 right-of-way corridor to receive up to 44,000 cubic yards of excess PFOA-contaminated soil from ongoing waterline extension projects.
The plan to dump near the Austin Hill Road underpass of the interstate highway soil excavated during waterline projects to deal with PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) met with vocal opposition during a public hearing in September.
A state Department of Environmental Conservation notice posted Jan. 8 stated that comments from residents at the hearing and others during a comment period that followed were a factor in the plan's revision.
"In response to the concerns expressed during the public comment period," the release states, "the VT Route 279 right-of-way along Austin Hill Road site is no longer being considered as a primary location to receive spoils (excess soil)."
The notice adds: "It is possible that the VT Route 279 right-of-way will not even be needed. If this location is used, it will only receive spoils from the immediate neighborhood, that is, spoils from waterline work along Bard Road, Murphy Road, Red Pine Road, and Austin Hill Road."
That limitation "would also significantly reduce the number of trucks that would travel through Old Bennington and Austin Hill-Bard Road area," according to the DEC announcement.
The DEC had earlier announced that an effort would be made to find deposit locations for the contaminated soil close to the waterline excavation sites and to look for other sites in the contamination zone where the owner would accept some excess soil. The revised plan further clarifies that decision.
John Schmeltzer, an environmental analyst with the DEC, said Tuesday that to allow use the Route 279 site, the Federal Highway Administration and the state Department of Transportation must first review the revisions over the next several weeks. He said he understands that a second public hearing will not be required on the revised environmental assessment.
Approval from the FHA is required because the highway was constructed with federal funding.
"The goal is to keep soils as close as possible to where they are removed," Schmeltzer said in an email. "Not all the locations have received soils at this time. Also, it is possible that the use of the Vermont Route 279 right-of-way will not be needed given the other locations."
One of those who protested the state’s plan at the hearing was the Rev. Penny Rich Smith, who said Tuesday of the changes:
“The revision of the soil management plan by the DEC is still a troubling issue in my opinion. I voiced and put in writing my major concerns about the negative impacts of dumping these ‘spoils’ … on a right-of-way along Austin Hill Road and Route 279, and my list of at least six major impacts was never addressed. The only response was to say that this site would not be the primary location to receive the spoils and other dumping sites would be used in various locations.”
Smith added, “The site on Austin Hill is simply a lousy spot for this dumping, even if it is a reduced amount of soil. In my opinion, it was not a good idea in the beginning and it is still not a good idea it is not the right thing to do. I hope that the Federal Highway Administration agrees and does not grant their approval.”
An environmental assessment last year led to selection of the Route 279 site as best to receive up to 44,000 cubic yards of material from the waterline work. The assessment considered a range of options and possible dump sites, including taking no action as to the choice of a deposit site, or choosing from alternative options including Ore Bed Road, Bard Road, a site on the Bennington College campus, the former Bennington landfill site, and the William Morse State Airport site.
The Route 279 site best met all the criteria outlined in the assessment report, and was seen as able to accommodate the amount of excess soil generated by what was bid as five separate construction projects involving both the Bennington and North Bennington water systems.
Residents voice strong objections
Residents at the September hearing said they were opposed to taking on more PFOA-contaminated soil in their section of town and were concerned about the estimated heavy truck traffic over local roads during the 200-day project. An estimated 4,000 truck trips would be required to haul the original amount, delivering 44,000 cubic yards of soil.
Residents did not appear convinced by a dumping site assessment report to consider possible locations within the PFOA contamination zone in town, which noted that the soil in those areas already has significantly more contamination that would be deposited along the section of interstate highway near the New York border.
The Austin Hill Road area also will receive new waterlines to replace contaminated wells, officials said.
Environmental officials believe PFOA emanated from the stacks of two former ChemFab Corp. factories in town, which used Teflon to coat fiberglass fabrics locally from 1968 through 2002. The primary PFOA source, the state contends, was stack emissions that built up in soil over a wide area around the two plants. The material then leached into groundwater and into private wells.
An agreement between the state Agency of Natural Resources and Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, which the state considers the party responsible for dealing with the contamination, is providing $20 million to fund the first phase of water line extensions to provide clean water for about half the affected properties — more than 200 — in Bennington. That work began in October and will continue in the spring, and negotiations with Saint-Gobain are ongoing concerning a similar number of properties to the west of Route 7A and the railroad line.
The complete revised excess soil management plan can be viewed here.