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Estimated Cost For Bennington County's PFOA Fix Nearly Doubles

Howard Weiss-Tisman
The rising number of private wells with PFOA is driving an increase in the costs associated with extending public water lines to the contaminated properties.

The estimated cost of bringing clean water to all of the Bennington County properties contaminated with PFOA has risen to more than $30 million.

The total number of private wells with levels of the suspected cancer causing chemical now stands at 244.

The new pockets of PFOA that have been discovered by state environmental officials means extra water lines have to be used if the municipal water systems in Bennington and North Bennington are going to reach all of the contaminated properties.

At an informational meeting Wednesday, Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd said costs for extending the town water system have almost doubled.

"The estimated cost to date is $25.9 million," Hurd said. "It went from $13 million, which we thought was manageable, to $25.9 million, just within the space of a month or so."

A portion of the homes and businesses can be reached from the town's water system, and the rest can be served from the village of North Bennington's water system.

The cost of building out the village of North Bennington's water system to the remaining properties has also jumped from about $3 million to $6 million.

Bennington's water system is much bigger, and has a greater capacity of taking on new customers.

There are 358 wells within the area engineers that want to extend the new water pipe from the town of Bennington's system.

And of those wells, only 174 have detected levels of PFOA above the state advisory level of 20 parts per trillion.

"The estimated cost to date is $25.9 million. It went from $13 million, which we thought was manageable, to $25.9 million, just within the space of a month or so." - Stuart Hurd, Bennington town manager

Hurd said the town is hoping everyone who lives within the area elects to hook on to the new system to help with the long term maintenance costs associated with the new water lines.

At the meeting there were a few residents who said they were reluctant to bring the town water into their homes, due to chemicals like fluoride in the water as well as because of  the annual costs.

The Bennington Selectboard will decide if the project will move forward, but it is still unclear who will pay for the work.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Bennington and North Bennington residents got an update on the PFOA crisis at a meeting at Bennington College.

The international firm Saint-Gobain owned the Chemfab factory in North Bennington, which is the suspected source of the chemical contamination. The company has been paying for water tests and for carbon filters, which are considered a short-term fix.

But the company has not yet committed to covering costs of the water line extensions.

At the Wednesday meeting, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren said the state continues to hold talks with Saint-Gobain.

She said in the next month the state will be looking for the town to make a decision, and she also said the number of people who want to connect to the system will drive the negotiations with Saint-Gobain.

Schuren said the state can't have detailed discussions with Saint-Gobain until it is clear just how many miles of water lines will be needed to reach every potential customer.

The town of Bennington will be sending out letters in the coming weeks to find out how much interest there is in hooking on to the water system.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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