Public comment sought on N. Pownal water study

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NORTH POWNAL — Following a series of delays, consultants analyzing water supply options for the village of North Pownal are moving ahead with the public outreach portion of the study; the format, however, will differ from the original plan because of the coronavirus epidemic.

Dufresne Group Vice President Christina Haskins, the project manager, said the first of two surveys of village property owners will be mailed today, seeking information about the condition of current private well-water supplies; asking whether residents believe something should be done to improve water quality in the village, and asking respondents to rank four broad alternatives for improvement projects.

List of options

The alternatives, identified during work last year by the firm, include continuing water quality testing and maintaining existing well PFAS filtering systems and installing new ones as required; replacing private wells found to be contaminated with PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals; installing a new well-water public system, including water lines and a storage tank, to serve both those with contaminated wells and others along the line who want to connect; and connecting to the existing public, well-fed Pownal Fire District No. 2 system in the southern area of town.

A connection for the fourth alternative would require approval of the Fire District 2 board.

If either alternative three or four are favored, respondents are also asked whether they would prefer to have fire protection requiring fire hydrants to be installed along the distribution route, which could result in a homeowner's insurance discount.

The consultants also plan to develop annual operational and maintenance costs for each alternative over a 30-year period.

The Dufresne Group has previously conducted input-gathering programs using a combination of methods in other small Vermont villages, including Jamaica, Proctor, Danville, Plainfield, Jeffersonville and Wolcott, as well as for projects in larger communities, including St. Johnsbury.

State funding

Haskins said during a phone interview that the state Department of Environmental Conservation is planning on the availability of capital funding for drinking water projects related to North Pownal. In that event, she said, the state would pay for construction and other costs, with residents benefiting from a water system responsible for maintenance.

Haskins said a follow-up survey is also planned, which will focus more on options favored in the initial survey. The firm is asking for the forms to be returned within about a month.

The contract for the study was awarded by the DEC in July 2019, with public meetings planned for the fall and a final report expected by January 2020.

But Haskins said delays resulted when a state officials had to take a leave to care for a family member; then town government became embroiled in a controversy focused on then-Town Administrator Michael Walker, who was placed on leave and then fired by the Select Board in November.

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For a time, "we couldn't get hold of anyone," Haskins said.

Finally, she said, the firm and DEC officials were ready to schedule public meetings on the study "and then COVID-19 happened," and no public meetings were allowed.

In addition to at least two mailed surveys, Haskins said the firm will consider pubic outreach efforts to be shown on local cable access channels.

PFOA in wells

The Dufresne Group was chosen by the DEC after the submission of requests for proposals from interested firms.

According to the firm's study proposal, the Dufresne Group specializes in municipal water and wastewater engineering and has extensive knowledge in public water system regulations and the evaluation, design and construction of public water systems.

Dufresne is working with project sub-consultant, Lincoln Applied Geology, which has experience in public community water supply development in Vermont, including work for the Pownal Fire District 2 water system.

That system was created during the 1990s and is fed by a well off Route 346, about 3 miles from the center of North Pownal village.

The discovery of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) in that water district's well in 2016 led to private well testing in other sections of Pownal, and to the identification of the toxic chemical in wells in North Pownal and Pownal Center as well.

The discovery, prompted the DEC to consider studies of the North Pownal area to consider alternative methods of supplying clean drinking water beyond the current private well systems. The contaminated wells now have carbon filtering systems to remove the industrial chemical.

In North Pownal, PFOA was detected in some wells around a former town dumping site and at another site associated with the former Pownal Tanning Co., where dumping also apparently occurred.

As noted in the Dufresne Group study proposal, North Pownal once was served by a village water system (officially called Fire District 1), which was established by the former textile-later tanning factory. It was fed by a reservoir located at the base of the Taconic Range along the New York border, west of the Hoosic River.

That water line system was abandoned when the tannery went out of business in the late 1980s. The factory has since been razed, during a federally funded environmental cleanup project.

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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