Joel Lentzner: Who's watching the watchers?

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Last year, I appeared before the Development Review Board to voice concerns about the excavation and storage of contaminated soil at the Putnam Project. The location of the PAH- and TCE-laden soil being excavated is less than 100 feet from my children's bedrooms. After the recent PFOA contamination in our community, my wife and I were concerned about airborne chemical hazards.

We discovered that the corrective action plan submitted to the ANR classified the area as industrial/commercial, making no mention of the mixed-use/residential properties also populating the area. We consulted three environmental engineers, as well as the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and learned this type of excavation, especially in residential areas, is usually accompanied by airborne contaminant monitoring.

My voicing these concerns to the DRB and ANR elicited this response, (obtained through a state records request) from project manager, Bill Colvin: " a local gadfly and Putnam Project opponent tried to make Tuesday's Development Review Board Meeting suggesting that the approved CAP does not meet current standards and surely, should this project go forward under the current AP provisions his children and countless others will die." Mr. Colvin continued to callously belittle our concerns, by explaining his rationale for denying air monitoring, "It is all a ruse of course, but we now must respond in some manner with the correct information so the DRB does not end up either denying the permit or placing undue, and costly conditions on it." Aha money, there's the rub! However, the ANR agreed with our concerns and mandated air monitoring be included in the corrective action plan. They also specified what safety precautions would be taken while stockpiling the contaminated soil onsite, which specified polyencapsulating the pile, so it would be impervious to wind and rain. These precautions allayed our concerns, and the project has proceeded with their environmental clean-up.

A few weeks ago, I was surprised to see the pile uncovered, a tarp on the ground, and the fence blown over. I contacted Kristi Herzer at the ANR, who contacted the project developer. Herzer then responded to me in an email, "I have been assured that this must have happened with the recent windy weather." Which makes perfect sense, a quick look at historical weather data shows gusts to 35 mph that weekend. However, it also means precautions taken by the developer, and approved by the state, were insufficient protection against the elements. Which would have made both entities look very bad.

The next day, I received another email from Ms. Herzer, explaining the developer was now telling her the pile had been vandalized, not affected by wind. The developer produced a photograph which allegedly shows the tarp was rolled up by vandals; it also shows the fence standing and undisturbed. The problem with that photograph is that it conflicts with the photograph Ms. Herzer asked me to take two days earlier, which I'd emailed her. In that photo, it shows the tarp obviously blown off the pile, (not rolled) and the fence blown over in the same direction.

So, why had the fence been righted for the second photograph? Why would vandals take the time to roll up a tarp? Was a pile of contaminated soil that was only covered by a tarp and being held down with rocks, designed to withstand 35 mph winds? If we really have vandals loose in our community, wanting to endanger us with chemical exposure, what are the police doing to capture these dangerous felons?

Be that as it may ... whether wind or vandals … the pile of contaminated soil was not protected adequately. Whether this is a failing of the ANR or the project developers doesn’t really matter at this point … we’ve already had PAH blowing all over downtown due to inept practices … the TCE contaminated soil (much more toxic) is next to be excavated.

Joel Lentzner is a resident of Bennington.


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