Read the full article by Steve Hughes (Times Union)
“PETERSBURGH — Two small towns are wrestling with how to handle PFOA contamination from a shuttered landfill in a move that could have lasting implications.
The towns of Berlin and Petersburgh have discussed similar agreements with the state that would require the towns to install a system for collecting the pollutants that are spreading from an old landfill that is contaminated with PFOAs and various metals. The towns are also considering reaching settlements from Taconic plastics, a local manufacturer blamed for much of the PFOA pollution in that area, and Covanta, a waste management firm that absorbed a company which had signed an agreement to oversee the landfill’s closure in the 1990s.
Their solution stands in contrast to how the village of Hoosick Falls, another small eastern Rensselaer County community, dealt with PFOA contamination that polluted its water supplies.
On Monday, the Petersburgh town board failed to get enough votes to go into executive session to discuss the proposal with their attorney Kevin Young. After a lengthy public discussion, the four members of the board that were present voted 2-2 on whether to enter into the agreement with the state.
Board member Heinz Noeding pushed the board to conduct its deliberations in public and questioned some of the assumptions behind the proposals. He said he has not received answers on what the proposed closure might cost, how the town would pay for its share and why it should release both companies from potential liability…
Young, an environmental attorney who represents both towns on the landfill issue, said the proposed plan would involve the towns receiving a state grant, with local expenses capped at 10 percent of the cost. That money would pay for the installation of a leachate collection system.
The town has received approval for that grant but are several years away from receiving it, Young said. Additionally, the towns could pursue another grant, one with a 25 percent local match for engineering work on the site. But the funding program for the second option has mainly been used to purchase additional land in the Adirondacks, Young told the board.
The settlements proposed with Covanta ($200,000) and Taconic plastics ($250,000) would provide money to help pay for the installation of the leachate system, Young said. But those proposed settlement agreements have not been made public by the towns and it’s unclear whether Berlin would receive additional funds.
Judith Enck, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, said settlements such as those on the table in Petersburgh are commonly sought by companies trying to deal with contamination clean-ups. Enck noted that Hoosick Falls rejected a similar offer when it was proposed.
‘I want to say in the strongest possible terms, the towns of Petersburgh and Berlin, they absolutely should not agree to this deal,’ Enck said. ‘It lets the polluters off the hook and would put massive financial responsibilities of the taxpayers of Petersburgh and Berlin.’
The village of Hoosick Falls has signed a series of interim settlements with the companies blamed for polluting that community’s drinking supplies. In each of the settlements, neither side has signed away their right to file lawsuits in the future. The manufacturing plant in Hoosick Falls that has been the focus of the contamination of the village’s water supply was declared both a state and federal Superfund site and cleanup is scheduled to begin this year.
Petersburgh board member Alan Webster, who helped negotiate the proposed settlement with Taconic, said he understands why people have questions about the possible consequences of the deal.
‘We’re looking at an opportunity to have ownership of this,’ he said. ‘We’re poor towns, we don’t have the money.’
Webster said that in negotiating with Taconic, he wanted to ensure the town maintained a working relationship with the company.
‘They’re the primary employer of the eastern valley of Rensselaer County,’ he said.
The company has previously paid for a water treatment system at a private home near the landfill and helped pay for upgrades to Petersburgh’s water treatment system.
But since the towns are both responsible for the landfill, Petersburgh’s decision to table the agreement means the state may declare the landfill a Superfund site. The state, which did not pursue the action for nearly 20 years until PFOA contamination was revealed in that region in 2016, would then try and recover its costs from anyone involved in the operation or closing of the dump, including the municipalities.
In a statement, the DEC said it would ensure that the landfill is appropriately cleaned up, saying their agency ‘strictly monitors permitted activities at landfills in New York state and works with the community on necessary actions related to site management’…”