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Waterford water line project begins

Pipeline a precaution against PCBs

Thursday, October 9, 2008
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— Construction has started on the 4.5-mile pipeline, paid for by the federal government and General Electric Co., that is designed to provide Halfmoon and Waterford with safe drinking water next year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that a subcontract has been awarded to W.M. Schultz Construction Inc., of Ballston Spa, to build the line. EPA spokeswoman Kristine Skopeck said the subcontractor started work last week in expectation of getting the contract. She said pipe has been laid in the ground near the Waterford water treatment plant, which is on Second Street between the library and the Hudson River. Brush has been cleared for the project on the Troy side of the river, she said.

The water line will run from Troy’s Tomhannock Reservoir, which is located several miles northeast of the city in Rensselaer County. The line will run under the Hudson River to Waterford and Halfmoon on the west side of the river.

Waterford town Supervisor Jack Lawler, who has been battling the EPA over various aspects of the project, said the work did not begin auspiciously. He said crews have ruptured both a town water main and a National Grid gas line in separate incidents this week.

Waterford and Halfmoon both draw their drinking water from the Hudson River, and state testing this year found low levels of PCBs in the public water supplies of both towns. Local, state and federal officials are concerned that PCB levels may rise starting next May, when the EPA is scheduled to begin its multiyear project of dredging PCB-contaminated sediment from the Hudson River.

The EPA said the water line project should be completed by April 1, before dredging starts.

An EPA statement said it would be paying for the water line, “which is to cost more than $6 million, with no expenses for the construction going to water consumers in the two towns. GE is expected to contribute toward the cost of the construction.” GE factories in Washington County legally discharged PCBs into the river until the 1970s.

Skopeck said the project cost could approach $8 million, when costs for another contractor drilling under the river are taken into account. Schultz Construction was chosen by Earth Tech, EPA’s water line contractor, through a competitive bidding process.

The EPA statement said that when constructed, “both towns will be able to use the new water line at their discretion. In addition to paying for the water line, EPA will pay the towns’ increased costs of using the water from Troy during periods in which PCB levels in the upper Hudson River exceed the established criteria, or when there is insufficient time to get water monitoring results before water at the dredging locations reaches water supply intakes.”

Waterford and Halfmoon leaders want EPA to pay the towns’ increased water usage costs for using the Troy system as soon as dredging starts, without waiting until PCB levels exceed federal and state safe drinking water standards of 500 parts per trillion. They do not want their residents having to drink water at anything approaching 500 parts per trillion, nor to have to pay more for clean water.

Lawler said he expects the town to start using Troy water as soon as dredging starts, whether or not EPA agrees to pay, but that he also expects the local governments to file a lawsuit against the EPA.

Halfmoon Supervisor Mindy Wormuth said, “We’re happy they’re moving ahead” with the project, but complained that EPA has failed to guarantee that it will be finished before dredging starts. “Absolute certainty” should be the criteria where people’s health and safety are at stake, she said.

Wormuth said she personally thinks the town should start using Troy water as soon as dredging starts, whether or not the EPA has agreed to pay the difference, but that the decision would be made by the Town Board.

Still unresolved is how Stillwater residents will receive safe water next year. That village also has PCBs in its water supply, not enough to exceed the safety standard, but more than in Waterford and Halfmoon. EPA has been in discussions with elected officials representing Stillwater, and has issued a report on potential options for the village, most of which agency officials said could not be done in time.

According to an EPA Web site, “PCBs have been demonstrated to cause a variety of adverse health effects. PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals.”

Wednesday’s EPA statement said: “For the first three years of operations, the dredging will occur more than 30 miles away from the Waterford and Halfmoon drinking water intakes. Over this distance, any PCBs that are resuspended will be diluted with river water from other tributaries, which will reduce the concentrations of PCBs in river water that could potentially reach the ... intakes. ... The project has been designed to keep re-suspension at a minimum. Dredging will be suspended if dredging-related PCBs in the Upper Hudson exceed the federal and state drinking water standard. Dredging will resume only after the problem has been fixed.”

 
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