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Negotiations continue between MVD, Saint-Gobain

Union Leader Correspondent

January 17. 2018 11:41PM
The attorneys for both Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and the Merrimack Village District have been working on a proposed settlement to facilitate construction of a water treatment facility for two public wells in Merrimack. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent)

MERRIMACK — An agreement between the Merrimack Village District and Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to treat two contaminated public water wells is expected within three months.

“The attorneys for both Saint-Gobain and the MVD have been diligently working on a proposed settlement to facilitate construction of a water treatment facility for (two) MVD wells,” said a statement from Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson, the law firm representing the public water supply company. “This process has been time consuming due to the technical nature of these issues, as well as the need for consultant input at various states of negotiations.”

The statement went on to say that MVD hopes to have an agreement in place within the next 90 days to treat the two wells known as wells four and five — wells that have been offline since contamination was discovered.

In the meantime, MVD, which supplies public water to about 25,000 Merrimack customers, hired Underwood Engineers as a consultant to further address the problem.

“Right now, in terms of the delivered water quality, when we look at all the samples from March 2016 to December 2017, it is an average between 15 and 26 parts per trillion of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) that is actually going into the water system,” said Michael Metcalf of Underwood Engineers, noting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard of 70 ppt.

Metcalf said last week during a public meeting in Bedford that the MVD wells four and five will remain offline until a treatment is in place, adding negotiations are ongoing.

“They will be providing significant funding for a treatment plant for wells four and five. Final negotiations are in place with them,” he said of Saint-Gobain.

The consultant has already completed the design for a future treatment system for the two wells, and the cost of that work is part of the negotiation process, according to Metcalf.

Discussions about a potential booster station to pump Pennichuck water into the MVD system have also taken place, he added.

Clark Freise, assistant commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said last week that the PFOA water contamination investigation is extensive, explaining sensitive legal negotiations have been ongoing with Saint-Gobain to offer more public water line extensions to serve those with private contaminated wells.

“The DES investigation into the release of PFOA from the Saint-Gobain facility is by far the largest and most complex of its kind in the history of New Hampshire,” he said, adding the department has tested more than 1,000 wells in southern New Hampshire and hundreds more statewide.

Freise said Saint-Gobain has invested millions of dollars in infrastructure projects to bring municipal water line extensions and connect hundreds of homes.

“It is important to note that this work has been completed in good faith and without the benefit of a formal consent agreement being in place,” he said.

Still, DES is demanding that Saint-Gobain provide alternate water to 65 more properties on Back River Road and South River Road, as well as 41 homes in Merrimack that are considered disputed properties, according to Freise.

“These negotiations are ongoing and progressing in a positive manner, so much so that we are scheduling a face-to-face meeting with Saint-Gobain in February with the expectation that a final agreement to all of the disputed properties in Bedford, Merrimack and Litchfield will be decided by the end of February,” he said. “To be clear, we are encouraged by recent progress, but of course until something is actually signed, nothing is final.”

According to Freise, Saint-Gobain has also submitted to air affluent testing of the smokestacks at the Merrimack facility, with testing set to take place in the spring.

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