Vermont firm chosen for North Pownal water study

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NORTH POWNAL — The Dufresne Group has been selected by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct a study of options for providing clean drinking water to residents of North Pownal village.

The Vermont firm was chosen following a request for proposals process to conduct a state-funded analysis of water issues and options in the wake of PFOA contamination discovered in some private wells.

The study will cover groundwater resources that could be tapped and the options for supplying water — including the potential for replacement wells or a villagewide water system.

The work, which is estimated to cost $40,000, will include public meetings and participation at various stages and result in a final report including recommendations by Jan. 1, 2020.

According to the firm's proposal to the state, 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 said it will work with a project sub-consultant, Lincoln Applied Geology, which it said has more than 40 years of experience in public community water supply development in Vermont, including work for the Pownal Fire District 2 water system in the southern area of town.

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 identification of the toxic industrial chemical in wells in North Pownal and Pownal Center as well.

That, in turn, prompted the DEC to consider wider studies of the North Pownal area to consider alternative methods of supplying clean drinking water beyond the current carbon filtering systems in affected homes or businesses.

The DEC considers a former Warren Wire — later General Cable — factory on Route 346 to be the principal source of PFOA in the town. The building is located about 1,000 feet from the Fire District 2 supply well, which was drilled in the 1990s, before PFOA and related chemicals were recognized as a serious threat to drinking water supplies.

The pollution is believed by state officials to have spread to soil and ultimately groundwater through factory exhaust stack emissions when the two former companies coated fabric and other items with liquid Teflon and dried the material at high temperature.

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The Fire District 2 well off Route 346 tested slightly above the state's allowable level for drinking water of 20 parts per trillion of PFOA, which now is being eliminated through a well-head filtering system.

In Pownal Center, PFOA or related chemicals were found in several wells around an early Warren Wire site  on Route 7 that was related to the factory on Route 346.

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

As noted in the 36-page Dufresne Group study proposal, North Pownal once was served by a villagewide water system (Fire District 1), established by the former textile-later tanning factory and fed by a reservoir located at the base of the Taconic Range, west of Route 346 and the Hoosic River.

But the system was abandoned when the tannery — since razed during a federally funded environmental cleanup project — went out of business in the late 1980s. Water now is supplied to residents by private wells.

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Work description

In its RFP response, the consultants said they would hold a kick-off meeting with DEC representatives to gather information on the project history and background, available data, project goals and other relevant information.

The firm plans to search available documents and data related to the study area, while Lincoln Applied Geology compiles available aerial photography for the study area and evaluates "topography, landforms, drainage, cultural features and the presence of earth fractures, which are vertical zones of concentrated rock breakage."

Hydrogeologic reports will also be compiled and reviewed to develop a preliminary understanding of subsurface conditions as well as potential sources of contamination, according to the proposal.

"Our initial approach to alternatives identification will be at a high level to look broadly at the study area and identify any potential alternatives," the firm wrote. "As we move through the research phase and obtain more detailed information about the study area, we will begin to narrow our focus on the alternatives identification and weed out alternatives that are impossible, impractical or obviously infeasible."

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In addition, according to the proposal, "As part of the identification of a new public water supply or new private water supplies, LAG will define bedrock and surficial geology in order to identify potential aquifers that could be developed for a water source for either private or public use."

Of the study timetable, Michael B. Smith, of the DEC's Waste Management Prevention Division, said last week, "We are starting to develop the contract now, so once that is done, we will have a better idea of the schedule."

Community input

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

Information will be gathered through public meetings to present alternatives and receive feedback from residents, and informational surveys will be developed and distributed, likely both in paper form and online.

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

Once the final report is approved by the DEC, the group will issue the report to the town, the consultants wrote. A meeting involving the town and DEC will be held to review and discuss the report. Following that meeting, public meetings will be held to present the findings.

Among broad alternatives to be considered are taking no further action and maintaining on-site filtering systems for contaminated wells; providing new wells to impacted residents; a new public water system for North Pownal, including a feasibility analysis of source options; and connecting to one of the existing water systems along Route 346 and in Pownal Center.

Dufresne Group Vice President Christina Haskins will serve as the project manager for the study. She will provide general project management, attend all meetings, identify and evaluate alternatives and prepare the report.

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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