BENNINGTON — The state Department of Environmental Conservation has revised details of a proposed reclassification plan for groundwater in an identified PFAS contamination zone.
Meanwhile, town officials and others are seeking additional state or federal funding to tie in more Bennington properties to the municipal water system.
Following a second public hearing and slide presentation last week, the DEC made several revisions to the reclassification proposal in response to input from residents.
Concerns voiced have focused on the impacts reclassifying the groundwater as non-potable because of long-lasting PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemical contamination could have on property and resale values.
A public comment period on the DEC proposal will continue until May 28.
“After that, the [DEC] will review all comments and start the process to finalize the decision document for this reclassification, which will include formal responses to public comments,” said John Schmeltzer, an environmental analyst with the agency. “At this time, it is anticipated that the final decision will likely be issued sometime in July.”
Summarizing the plan revisions, Schmeltzer said Monday in an email, “The state has made revisions to the formal reclassification in response to public comments that we have received to date, particularly concerns about the adverse effect that the proposed Class IV [non-potable] designation could have on the resale values of their homes.”
He said the Class IV groundwater designation won’t apply to existing water supplies that continue to test below the regulatory standard of 20 parts per trillion for PFAS.
“This means that these wells are potable,” he said. “There are 130-plus wells that fall into this category.”
Schmeltzer said the revisions also clarify “the criteria on which a water supply that has or has had PFAS will be considered potable in the future, meaning that the Class IV designation would no longer apply to this water supply,” and clarify “the conditions on which newly permitted wells are considered a potable water supply, meaning the Class IV designation does not apply.”
Thus far, he said, “the public feedback that we have received on these proposed changes have been positive.”
WATER LINE HOOKUPS
The consent agreements with Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, considered by the state as the responsible party as the last operator of two closed ChemFab Corp. factories here, provided some $50 million for new water lines and to cover other remediation costs since the contamination was first detected in wells here in 2016.
However, the agreements did not include extension of water lines to properties where wells had not tested above the state’s PFAS level for drinking water, or when further extension of the line could not be accomplished from an engineering standpoint.
A number of the property owners whose residences were not hooked up to municipal water have asked for further line extensions, contending that would be the best long-term solution to provide them with clean water and protect their property value and resale values.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said Monday the town has “urged that state funding be provided,” but no decisions have been announced by the DEC.
Schmeltzer said in an email that the DEC “did not make explicit recommendations on funding additional waterlines in Bennington. We indicated that there is likely [federal] infrastructure funding coming to the state, and we have no objections if the town pursues this funding and if the Legislature decides to allocate such funding to expand waterlines further in Bennington.”
DEC Commissioner Peter Walke said in an email Monday, “I can tell you that at this point, the current budget, which the Legislature is debating and finalizing now, does not include money for water line extensions. There are further ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] dollars that will be available in the coming years that could be appropriated for that purpose. Further, the federal infrastructure bill may have resources well suited to that request from the town. We’ll continue to work with the Legislature, but that is ultimately their call.”
Asked whether there is a chance for further water line hookup funding, state Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said, “Quick answer, yes; it depends on ARPA and other federal funding.”
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.
Comments also can be submitted through the DEC Environmental Notice Bulletin page, or sent by email to Schmeltzer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to Richard Spiese at the DEC at email@example.com.
The state-identified PFAS contamination zone extends out around former Chem-Fab Corp. factories on Northside Drive and on Water Street in North Bennington. The former 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).
The zone map also extends into areas of southern Shaftsbury, which are close to the former factory building on Water Street.