Pownal water board opts for PFOA filtering
POWNAL — With the option of a new well on former Green Mountain Race Track property apparently back on the table, the Pownal Fire District 2 board had a decision to make.
The board, which is dealing with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the water system's well off Route 346, also has the option of a long-term carbon filtering facility provided by the insurance firm addressing the contamination.
At the end of their meeting Monday, board members decided to give up on the new well option and accept an upgraded filtering system to replace a temporary unit now in place.
"The board has decided to stay with the carbon filtration," Chairman Mark Smith said Tuesday. "There are too many variables for us to risk a new source well. It wouldn't be fair to our ratepayers."
Board members met earlier with state environmental officials and representatives from Unicorn Management Consultants, which is overseeing the response to the PFOA contamination discovered in the district well in 2016, and environmental officials from two state agencies.
Also participating briefly via phone was Steve Soler, the managing director of Green Mountain Race Track, LLC, which owns the 144-acre race track property, located less than a mile southeast of the current district wellhead.
Soler. confirmed for the board that he was willing to consider some changes to a prior proposed agreement allowing the district access to drill required test wells on the track site. That proposal was rejected as possibly leaving the district liable for any contamination found on the site and over other concerns, officials said.
In addition, the race track site had previously been involved in a foreclosure suit, which was dismissed last week in Bennington Superior Court after the overdue amounts owed on a mortgage were paid up.
"After everyone left, we discussed the situation and took a vote," Smith said. "It was unanimous to stay with the filtration."
The district board had voted last year to continue searching for a new well site, rather than approve the consultant's proposed long-term filtering option, and despite two prior unsuccessful attempts to secure access to potential well sites for testing.
In addition to a breakdown of discussions to perform testing on the track property, negotiations over access to a site on the Pollert tree farm on Northwest Hill Road apparently broke down over the price to lease or purchase the property.
During the Monday meeting, Francisco Trejo, of Unicorn Management, stressed that the consultants have already developed a plan detailing upgrades to the current filtering system and for maintaining it.
In contrast, he said, it would take a minimum of two years gain access to the track site, perform new well testing, acquire the necessary state permits and then to design and construct a water connection to the existing district lines.
And resident Jim Winchester and others at the meeting brought up the proposals Soler previously floated for establishing a commercial water bottling plant or brewing facility in conjunction with a district well site on track property.
John Beling, general counsel for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said that if the board wanted to pursue the well option, Soler should be invited as soon as possible to a meeting to discuss preliminaries to an access agreement.
The district apparently could secure access to the track site for test wells and could move forward with that option, said Patricia Coppolino, environmental program manager with the state Waste Management and Prevention Division.
But she noted that the board was not bound by its prior vote if, after weighing all the options, the search for a new well site no longer seems reasonable.
Smith and others at the meeting said concerns also have surfaced over potential new maintenance costs the district could face if it accepts a well and then must pay to filter or remove manganese or deal with other expensive issues.
In addition, Smith said, how the water system lines would be connected to the new well and whether the connection would have to cross nearby railroad tracks are among unknowns at this point, even assuming no problems were discovered during the water testing phase.
He said the DEC would be notified Tuesday of the board's decision.
The proposed long-term filtering system still would require state approvals before it could be installed, but the time frame would likely be months rather than years.
State environmental officials have said the PFOA contamination emanated from the former Warren Wire/General Cable factory building that is located about 1,000 feet from the water district's well site. The district well was established during the 1990s, before perfluorooctanoic acid was recognized as a threat to groundwater supplies.
In 2016, levels of PFOA higher than the state's 20 parts per trillion standard for drinking water were found in the well, prompting the need for carbon filtering. The district system serves about 400 residents in the southern area of Pownal.
Warren Wire and General Cable used Teflon coatings at the site beginning in the late 1940s, and stack emissions from the high-heat drying process used are believed to have spread the PFOA through the air and, eventually, through soil into the groundwater.
Unicorn Management was hired by American Premier Underwriters, which assumed environmental liability for the property under its current owner, Mack Molding. The building now is used primarily as a warehouse.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien
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