BENNINGTON — The deadline for commenting on reclassification of groundwater under sections of Bennington and Shaftsbury because of PFAS pollution will be extended again by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
An additional public hearing on the proposal and meetings with local town boards involving DEC personnel also are expected to occur over the next two months.
State officials confirmed Wednesday that the time allowed for residents to comment on the DEC’s proposed reclassification plan will continue through May.
The comment period recently was extended from April 2 to April 30, after some residents and the Bennington Select Board voiced concerns — primarily about the possible negative effects on property and resale values if the groundwater is reclassified as unfit for drinking purposes.
THROUGH MAY 28
“The public comment period has been extended to May 28,” John Schmeltzer, an environmental analyst with the DEC, wrote in an email. “I am in the process of updating our website, etc. We will also have another virtual public meeting, but the date and time for that meeting has not yet been scheduled. I expect it will likely be in mid-May.”
He added that DEC Commissioner Peter Walke and other officials “will be participating in the upcoming Bennington Select Board meeting on [Monday, April 12]. The DEC is also in the process of reaching out to the [North Bennington] Village Trustees and to the Shaftsbury Select Board to see if they would like us to attend an upcoming meeting to answer questions about the proposed reclassification.”
“We have heard the community that they need more time and more information,” Walke said in an email, “and we want to be responsive to those requests. We believe this approach will give more residents the opportunity to engage with us and ask questions they may have.”
Among those requesting additional time for residents to comment was state Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington.
“I’ve been asking for this for a couple of weeks,” she said, referring to an expanded comment period and another public hearing.
“I’m pleased to see this,” Morrissey said. While meeting with the Bennington Select Board is a good step, she said, “it would not be a public hearing,” where residents would have an expanded opportunity to comment and ask questions.
She added Thursday that the state officials are expected to meet Tuesday, April 13, with the North Bennington trustees, and on April 19 with the Shaftsbury Select Board.
According to a posted notice from the DEC, “The main purpose for reclassifying the groundwater as non-potable is to protect human health and safety by providing a formal notification to landowners, well drillers, and permitting agencies that groundwater is or may be contaminated by PFAS.”
The state-identified PFAS contamination zone extends out around two former Chem-Fab Corp. factories – on Northside Drive and on Water Street in North Bennington – where the company coated fiberglass and other fabrics with liquid Teflon containing PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), including the predominant substance identified in hundreds of local wells – PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid).
Concerns being voiced during the groundwater reclassification process have focused on those properties that were not hooked into municipal water lines during an extensive project aimed at providing clean water to those residents whose wells were contaminated.
In consent agreements with Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, considered by the state as the responsible party as the last operator of the closed factories, the company provided some $50 million for new water lines and to cover other remediation costs since PFOA was first detected in wells here in 2016.
Those agreements did not include extension of water lines to properties where wells had not tested above the state’s PFAS level for drinking water, 20 parts per trillion, or when further extension of the line could not be accomplished from an engineering standpoint.
Among those raising concerns with reclassification were Al Bashevkin and Nancy Pearlman, who said they believe only a connection to the municipal water system could ensure a safe source of water long-term, which in turn would protect owners from a possible decline in the value of their properties.
Bachevkin raised those issues during an online public hearing the DEC held in early March and during a subsequent Select Board meeting, when the board decided to seek an extension of the comment period.
Comments on the DEC’s draft reclassification plan can be mailed to the state Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Conservation, Waste Management & Prevention Division; 1 National Life Drive – Davis 1; Montpelier, 05620-3704.
The draft decision, reclassification map and fact sheet on the process also are available at the Bennington Town Offices, at 205 South St.
To review the documents at the offices, residents should call 802-442-1037 to set up an appointment.