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Despite Saint-Gobain contamination deal, Litchfield residents frustrated with town water hookup

Union Leader Correspondent

March 22. 2018 10:11AM
The Saint-Gobain plant in Merrimack. (File photo)

LITCHFIELD — One day after the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services announced that it reached an agreement with Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to provide municipal water to about 300 more properties with contaminated wells, those who have already been connected to public water are expressing frustration.

“In my opinion I am not happy with it because we weren’t given a choice,” said Greg Richardson of Litchfield, whose home was connected to Pennichuck water last summer after contamination was discovered.

Richardson said he would have preferred to have a filtration system installed on his well. Instead, he is now paying $60 a month for a water bill he never had prior to the contamination discovered around the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant in Merrimack.

“Even though they will be starting to hook up new properties, our project is still not complete,” said Stacey Darlington of Litchfield, whose private well was one of the first in Litchfield to be connected to municipal water last spring.

Although state officials are encouraging homeowners to have their private wells decommissioned, Darlington said no progress has been made, even though she and her husband, David, opted for their well to be decommissioned nearly a year ago.

David Darlington agreed, adding the new consent decree executed between DES and Saint-Gobain does not cover municipal water bills for homeowners who previously used private wells.

“We know this has been a two-year journey and it is not over yet,” DES Commissioner Bob Scott said Wednesday during a public meeting highlighting the consent decree that will add municipal water connections to 300 more properties; 450 properties have already been hooked up.

Clark Freise, assistant coommissioner of DES, said personal water bills were not addressed in the agreement. However, he stressed that the agreement does not limit anyone’s right to take legal action against Saint-Gobain.

“What has been negotiated is unprecedented in state history,” said Scott.

All of the disputed areas within Merrimack, Litchfield and Bedford are included in the consent decree, explained Freise, adding that about half of the properties are below state standards for perfluorooctanoic acid but are located within neighborhoods that are at risk.

Water lines, curb stops

Despite the significance of the consent decree, Freise said it does not include separate negotiations between Saint-Gobain and Merrimack Village District, the public water company that serves 25,000 residents in Merrimack and has two contaminated wells now off-line.

The consent decree provides municipal water line connections to 121 additional properties in Bedford, 41 more properties in Merrimack and 27 new properties in Litchfield.

“The majority of these should be done this summer,” Freise told homeowners, some of whom have been using bottled water for nearly two years.

In addition, curb stops will be installed to 109 undeveloped properties in Manchester, Litchfield, Merrimack and Bedford so that municipal water may be provided if the sites are developed.

The total remedial price-tag being paid by Saint-Gobain was not disclosed on Wednesday, although Freise said Saint-Gobain has already paid about $14 million for work in Litchfield prior to having a consent decree in place.

Testing at Merrimack plant

“We have already identified there is a lot of contamination on the site itself,” Freise said of Saint-Gobain’s Merrimack parcel.

As part of the consent decree, a full site investigation is required, including testing air, soil, stormwater, groundwater, surface water and monitoring wells. A remedial action plan will be necessary at the Merrimack plant, according to Freise.

“We sampled their stormwater and it showed high levels of contamination,” he said, adding a brook near the Merrimack site that leads into the Merrimack River is picking up levels of contamination. That will be explored further to determine if a no-fishing zone should be put in place, Freise said.

Tom Kinisky, CEO of Saint-Gobain, said in a statement that a lot of work has already been completed in a relatively short amount of time, given the size and complexity of the issue.

“We’ve been a part of this community for many years and our top priority was always to take a leadership position in our response,” Kinisky said in a news release. “With this consent decree now signed, we remain committed to working with community partners to finalize the work left to be done.”

The municipal water line connections will take time, and it will be messy, explained Freise, asking residents to be patient and stressing that Saint-Gobain is anxious to get the work done, especially since negotiations are now over.

In the meantime, Freise said DES has been testing more than 500 samples of groundwater for a different contaminant, GenX, although none of it has been detected thus far.

He apologized for the delay in getting contaminated wells decommissioned; some of that work is expected to be completed by November.

Public Safety Business Litchfield

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