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December 04. 2013 11:16PM

$22.3m approved for MTBE assessment plan

CONCORD — The state will establish a 13-person bureau in the Department of Environmental Services to implement a MTBE assessment and clean up plan with money from settlements with gasoline companies.

The Executive Council Wednesday approved the use of $22.3 million of the $81.6 million settlement fund to establishing and implementing the plan.

The Attorney General's Office has the restricted money for remediating the damage caused by the gasoline additive required in four southern New Hampshire counties to reduce auto emissions.

The chemical has polluted private and water supply wells throughout the state and will cost an estimated $800 million to address, according to Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice.

The $81.6 million fund is separate from the $236 million the state was awarded in its suit against Exxon Mobile, which did not settle with the state as other gasoline companies did.

That case is currently under appeal, Rice said. The oil company wants that money put into a trust fund for remediation, but the state is currently fighting that in court, she said.

She said it would be probably at least a year before the appeal is decided by the court.

Rice said the $22.3 million request is only for this biennium.

"We have worked closely with DES on setting priority sites," she said, "and evaluating the scope of the problem."

Michael Wimsatt, waste management division director, said the chief concern is private wells.

He noted while the additive was only required in four southern counties, gasoline with MTBE in it was sold throughout the state.

He said there are approximately 250,000 private wells in New Hampshire, making it impossible to sample all of them. The program will attempt to identify the priority sites, Wimsatt said.

If an individual well has been contaminated, an onsite cleaning system can address the problem, state officials said, or if the contaminant has impacted a larger area, water systems may need to be extended or small systems established.

According to information supplied to the council by DES Commissioner Tom Burack, a comprehensive remediation plan will be developed for using the money and presented to the council by early next year.

The remediation project is expected to last six years.

Health insurance rates

The council also voted to accept a federal grant of $2.3 million to improve health insurance rate reviews, improve data collections on claims and improve access to service costs charged by providers. The grant is part of the Affordable Care Act.

Although District 3 Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, questioned how the money would help state residents, insurance department officials said it will give the agency additional tools to help with rate setting and providing consumers with more information about the cost of different types of services.

Gov. Maggie Hassan said it is difficult to reform the health care system if you don't know what things costs. She said the grant would help provide that information.

Last I-93 contract

The council approved a $32.2 million contract with Weaver Brothers Construction Co.,Inc. of Bow to rehabilitate and widen I-93 in the exit 3 area as part of the expansion project from Salem to Manchester.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement said the contract would be the last for the project unless additional funding is found.

He said without additional money, work on the expansion will come to an end in October 2016 with the widening complete from Salem to Exit 3 and around Exit 5.

grayno@unionleader.com


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