POWNAL — The state is seeking proposals from engineering firms to analyze options for providing clean drinking water to North Pownal — including a villagewide water system.
The request for proposals is a continuation of the state's response to PFOA contamination of the Pownal Fire District 2 well water system, which was discovered in 2016, and subsequent testing of private wells in other areas of town that found elevated levels in some wells in North Pownal.
The posted Department of Environmental Conservation notice asks firms to evaluate all options to provide safe drinking water, including a public water system for North Pownal, also with an analysis of potential well sources, connection to other existing well water systems in town; providing new wells to each PFOA-impacted well in North Pownal, and/or taking no action and leaving filtering systems in place on wells at affected properties.
While Pownal lacks a townwide water system, the Fire District 2 system serves several hundred residents in the southern areas of town from a single well located about three miles from North Pownal on Route 346.
A private well-fed system also exists off Route 7 in Pownal Center.
The state has identified the source of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid ) in the Fire District 2 well as a former General Cable/Warren Wire factory about 1,000 feet away on Route 346. That facility once coated materials with liquid Teflon, which was baked on, producing stack emissions that spread over soils in the surrounding area.
In North Pownal, the source of PFOA and related PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) industrial chemicals is suspected to be former dumping sites that apparently accepted factory and other wastes.
"From my perspective, we need to have good clean drinking water, and it has to be permanent," said Rep. Nelson Brownell, D-Pownal, of the proposal.
Town Administrator Michael Walker said the DEC contacted his office about a year ago concerning the proposed state-funded study, and he informed the Select Board.
"They said, `yes, do it,'" he said, adding that officials are concerned about the contamination and are interested to learn the results of the analysis.
The RFP also specifies that the engineering firm provide an avenue for public comment on the recommended option or options.
Up to three meetings will be required with DEC staff at stages during the study, and up to three meetings with DEC, town officials and other stakeholders will be held to discuss and review the findings and a presentation of the findings at a public meeting.
The study must identify potential water source areas, water distribution areas and the geologic setting; discuss features like bridges, roads and railways and natural geologic impediments and water service elevation concerns, and discuss water source protection requirements and how those might affect a potential water supply.
A review and summary of historic public and private drinking water and wastewater planning documents also is required. Among those are a 1999 Pownal water supply assessment and feasibility study and a 2017 PFAS report for Pownal.
Historically, North Pownal once was served by a village water system with a reservoir located at the base of the Taconic Range, west of Route 346. That system was operated by the former textile/later tanning company off Route 346 that went out of business in the late 1980s. The factory has since been razed.
The study also must include a decision matrix based on long-term effectiveness and permanence of the options; compliance with legal requirements, and whether state, federal can be obtained and/or third-party agreements reached.
Technical feasibility and possible difficulties, land acquisition, construction and operations must be analyzed. And there must be an assessment of capital and maintenance costs over a 30-year period and of community acceptance of the alternatives.
A public comment period and informational meeting on the water alternatives will be part of the process.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien