BENNINGTON — The engineering consultants hired by the state to analyze the options for providing clean drinking water in North Pownal village have submitted preliminary progress reports and are preparing a public outreach schedule.
The Dufresne Group was hired in July following a state Department of Environmental Engineering request for proposals to conduct a study in light of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) contamination discovered in several private village wells.
That testing followed discovery in 2016 of a elevated level of PFOA in the Pownal Fire District 2 water system well, located about three miles southwest of the village off Route 346, as well as in village wells around at least two former dumping sites that received industrial wastes.
"We held our internal kick off meeting," Michael B. Smith, of the DEC's Waste Management and Prevention Division said in an email. "I have just approved the [draft] documents and asked for a schedule."
He said the meeting was held Aug. 28 at division offices in Montpelier, involving Dufresne Group Vice President Christina Haskins, the project manager; Steve Revell, of Lincoln Applied Geology, which is a subcontractor for the study; and officials with the Waste Management division and the Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection division.
The consultants have since submitted draft reports concerning aspects of the approximately four-month study process. Those include an outline of the proposed public relations and outreach plan and schedule, which Haskins said in an email should be completed by next week.
In general, the draft plan calls for contacting residents of North Pownal by mail; email, and through news media and public access television; door-to-door contact, posters, a state newsletter with information on PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination issues, as well as through public meetings and outreach sessions.
The aim is to gather comment and feedback from residents, village property owners, business owners and local officials.
The engineers also have submitted to the DEC draft reports on the drinking water alternatives under consideration in the study.
Those include taking no action in light of the PFOA contamination, but the draft report notes: "The 'no action' alternative does not mean no action is taken. It means that the current actions being performed will continue to be performed with no change."
According to the draft, those include maintaining point of entry treatment (POET) filtering systems for village wells found to be contamination; continued monitoring of water supplies for additional contamination, and adding new POET systems at properties as required.
Another alternative — providing new wells for impacted properties — also is being analyzed. The draft report notes different bedrock situations within the village, some of which are associated with very low-yield wells, while other sections produce high-yield wells in terms of gallons per minute.
"Providing completely grouted bedrock wells to each impacted resident is not a productive way to move forward because of the high probability of not developing an adequate yield for every single-family residence using more costly deep bedrock wells," the draft report states in part.
Water system feasibility
Concerning a possible villagewide water system, similar to the Fire District 2 system serving several hundred Pownal residents, the draft report notes that would require an adequate well site that is available for acquisition along with a buffer zone around it; test drilling for yield and water suitability for a public system capable of receiving state and/or federal permits; and a new distribution system including water lines, pumping and storage facilities.
The village once had a water system, which was reservoir-fed and was provided by owners of the former textile/later tannery mill on Route 346 near the North Pownal Bridge over the Hoosic River.
But that defunct system is "not recoverable," according to minutes of the Aug. 28 kickoff meeting. It was also noted that no one is sure of the legal status of the former Fire District No. 1 in North Pownal, or whether it is still a viable option relative to any new system.
District 2 formed in the 1990s after a private reservoir water system in south Pownal could no longer meet federal drinking water standards. At the time, the district received grants and loans to drill the well and upgrade the system, and customers now are responsible for loans, maintenance and other costs.
The filtering system, however, is being funded by an insurer for the current owner of the former Warren Wire/General Cable mill off Route 346, which is located about 1,000 feet from the district well. State officials consider the mill, which formerly Teflon with PFOA in coating fiberglass and other fabrics and materials at high temperature.
PFOA is believe to be spread through factory stack emissions and from dump sites where waste materials were buried.
Possible well sites
The draft report states that there are two areas of North Pownal village near the river and Route 346 that might have water yield potential aquifers suitable for a water system.
One area includes elevated open fields west of the river and the bridge and toward the base of the Taconic Range along the New York border. This would be near the former mountainside reservoir that fed the system created by the mill owners.
Another area would include open fields along the south and west sides of Route 346.
Potential yields from those areas could be similar to the 97 gallons per minute yield of the Fire District 2 well, the draft report states.
Any well site would also have to be clear of sources of contamination and would require a buffer zone of from 125 to 200 feet.
A water system capacity evaluation also would be needed, which would likely require support from the Pownal Select Board, the draft report states. An evaluation would focus on whether there are technical, financial and managerial resources available to successfully operate a public system.
Connecting to one of the smaller private water systems, located along Route 7 and Route 346 in the town, was considered. However, those "typically do not have sufficient water to supply the demand of an area like North Pownal village," the draft states.
The District 2 well would have "excess capacity in the well to serve North Pownal," is states, based on a 97 gallon per minute yield and a system demand of approximately 45 gallons per minute.
That well water is being filtered to eliminate PFOA, and a permanent granular activated carbon filter system is proposed and being designed to ensure clean water long-term and could filter the full-yield capacity of the well.
Also noted is that a connection to North Pownal would require a three-mile water line and an additional water storage tank: District 2 has one 250,000 gallon tank.
The draft report also notes that the District 2 board does not have to approve a connection to a North Pownal system, and board members have indicated they would oppose such a change.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien