U.S. Rep. Peter Welch visits North Bennington and state officials about contaminated wells


NORTH BENNINGTON — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., has joined other lawmakers in pledging support for a municipal water line extension to homes affected by water contamination.

Welch, in meeting with village and state officials on Monday, stressed the importance of communicating with members of the public and the need for transparency as investigators probe PFOA, a potentially harmful, man-made chemical found in numerous private wells.

"What's apparent to me is that the local and state response has been all-in," Welch said during a meeting with village trustees, Bennington's legislative delegation and members of the public at the North Bennington Train Depot. "It's very reassuring, in that it's very clear that everyone involved understands it's about providing reassurance to the citizens."

Discussion on Monday indicated engineers working for the state and Saint-Gobain, the last owner of the suspected contamination source, need more information.

Steve Goodrich, chairman of the village Water Board, said it could be at least a year before any sort of line extension project starts.

Village Board Chairman Matthew Patterson questioned what would happen when negotiations between the company start getting into "the details and the weeds."

"Everyone seems happy now about working together," Patterson said.

However, when it comes down to dollars, he said the company's engineers may suggest a solution that's less expensive but not necessarily appropriate from the town's standpoint.

Formerly used to make Teflon, studies have linked PFOA, or Perfluorooctanoic acid, with cancer and other diseases, including that of the kidney and thyroid. The state tested private wells within 1.5 miles of the former ChemFab factory, which is the suspected contamination source.

Welch started his day at Kaman Composites, where he spoke about new legislation he filed this month. The "Jobs for Veterans Act" would provide a one-time tax incentive to businesses that hire veterans who have served after 9/11.

Welch then joined state senators and representatives, and state environmental and health officials for a briefing at the state Department of Health Office at 324 Main St. in Bennington before heading to the village.

Goodrich said the municipal system, which tests show is not contaminated, has the capacity to serve the affected homes.

"How far we can stretch it, that's the next question," he said.

Unknowns include how to move water up hills — Royal Street may need a booster station, for example. Goodrich even declined to give a "ball-park" cost estimate for the project. It's not as simple as digging a ditch and putting a pipe in, Goodrich said, explaining that engineers aren't sure what they'll find underground. It's possible the water line was never extended to some neighborhoods because of an obstacle like a rock ledge, he said.

Some discussion also centered on the effects of the local political structures: North Bennington is a chartered village within the town and has a board of trustees. Both the village and town have separate municipal systems (the village's system is a separate entity itself.) And some discussion indicated that, in some cases, it could be cheaper to extend the town's line to some village homes, rather than extend the village line.

Alyssa Schuren, commissioner for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said she and Gov. Peter Shumlin are expected to meet with Saint-Gobain representatives on Wednesday. She said that she and the governor are still focused on making any responsible parties reimburse the state for any costs it's endured, as well as future costs such as the water line extension and a full cleanup of contamination.

Schuren also said other funding streams are available in the event that talks with Saint-Gobain and any other parties found responsible are slow and hold up financing a water line project.

"We are still having conversations that are progressing in a way that we hope they will with the company," she said.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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