OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
October 16, 2018
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner and Bradley Rafus were present; Mitchell Green arrived about 7:07 p.m. Mary Brewster, Peggy Rafus, Norma Tamburrino, Joseph Tamburrino, Sue Kelly, Kasey Kathan (Vermont DEC), Dennis Fekert (Vermont DEC), Rebecca Treat (KAS Environmental), Representative John Gannon, Senator Jeanette White, Senator Becca Balint, Hope Phelan, Patricia Dow, and Robbin Gabriel were also present.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Lewis Sumner made a motion to approve the 10/2/18 regular meeting minutes as written. Brad Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
PFOA/PFOS Discussion (Representative John Gannon, DEC Environmental Analyst Kasey Kathan, KAS Environmental Project Geologist Rebecca Treat, Guests)
Sumner introduced the guests, and invited Kasey Kathan to take the floor. Using a map for reference, Kathan began with an overview of the current PFOA/PFOS testing program at the Halifax landfill MW-3 monitoring well. She explained that the family of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid compounds was quite large. (Note: To avoid confusion these chemical compounds will be referred to as PFAS henceforth.) The State of Vermont has mandated testing for five of those compounds, with acceptable levels of the sum of the five set at twenty parts per trillion (ppt). Concentrations at the MW-3 well have crept up since testing first began about two years ago. Originally, the tests were only looking for two compounds, but in the last year monitoring for five compounds has begun. That is why, said Kathan, test results might be a little different than what we were talking about two years ago. The State requested testing of two nearby residential wells; one landowner refused while the other private well tested negative (non-detect). Subsequently the Town volunteered to test several other private wells, which tested negative with the exception of one at the confluence of Sperry and Branch Brooks. That sampling showed 2 ppt, with a field blank detection of 6 ppt. The field blank is a clean water sample from the lab, which is opened and transferred at the test site. Its purpose is to detect any potential cross-contamination from the site, the physical location, or the sampler. There is a high potential for cross-contamination, as PFAS is found in many household items, including pots and pans, carpeting, and any stain-resistant product. Kathan said the private well which showed PFAS at 2 ppt will be retested. While the landfill MW-3 well has been creeping up, the numbers are still fairly low and are in line with results from other monitored landfills in the State.
Kathan told Joe Tamburrino the Town Garage well and the private well at Branch Road and Route 112 (Tamburrino property) had both tested non-detect. Tamburrino asked whether that reading could change for his well. I’ll never say anything is impossible, replied Kathan, but our knowledge of ground water flow (from the MW-3 well) says it is moving pretty aggressively toward Branch Brook. We also measured MW-4 (a second monitoring well on the landfill property). That well is lower than MW-3, it is in the direction of groundwater flow, and it had a very low detection. The State is not requesting retests of private wells but will continue to monitor the landfill MW-3 well twice a year throughout the certification period, which is four years. Three landfill monitoring wells have been tested for over twenty years for metals and volatile organic compounds; Kathan said those elements were never a problem at this landfill. The primary concern is PFAS, and more data is needed to evaluate the situation.
John Gannon noted that the DEC website advises Pownal residents whose wells tested positive for any level of PFAS that they should be getting bottled water for their homes. Kathan said testing in the Pownal area was showing higher concentrations of PFAS, and that the 2 ppt result from the Phelan well (the Sperry and Branch Brooks property), was at the lowest threshold for which the lab could provide accurate detection levels. Rebecca Treat (KAS Environmental) said samples from the Phelan and Rafus private wells, and the MW-3 monitoring well, would be taken again next week. Brad Rafus asked about testing MW-4 again, suggesting that would be a good idea given the higher test results from MW-3. If the Town decided to retest MW-4 Kathan said she would be in agreement. She said testing was happening state-wide, and the State was trying to treat everyone fairly.
Why did the State decide to test these wells?, asked Peggy Rafus. Kathan explained that discovery of high contamination levels in the Bennington area brought PFAS to the attention of the State. As the compounds are found in so many residential products, a decision was made to test landfills, first in Bennington and Windham counties, then across the State. We should be getting the full suite of data on all landfills this fall, she said. Levels seen in Halifax are typical of the ppt counts found in other landfills where the compounds have been detected. Peggy Rafus wanted to know whether all landfills that received sludge from the Bennington facility had been tested and returned positive results. We are still waiting for one result, answered Kathan; the receipt records are incomplete. I don’t know the list of the landfills that took sludge from Bennington. Before Bennington, recalled Lewis Sumner, PFAS was discovered in Hoosick Falls, New York. Peggy Rafus pointed out that the State’s letter to the Town stated there were records available from the Bennington facility on sludge. I don’t remember all on that list, responded Kathan. I know Halifax and Randolph were on there. When will you link the contamination to the company responsible?, asked Peggy Rafus. I don’t know that will ever be possible, said Kathan. We are getting positive results from landfills that never received sludge. Peggy said she felt something should be done to assign responsibility, particularly regarding landfills known to have received sludge from Bennington. When will there be enough data, and who is going to take responsibility and help the town figure out what we need to do next?, she asked. I’m not willing to accept our test level is a small amount.
What is the solution–how do you deal with PFAS?, asked Mary Brewster. There is no satisfactory way to remove PFAS from groundwater, answered Kathan. You can put in granulated activated carbon treatment systems for residential water supplies. Who pays for that?, asked Joe Tamburrino. The responsible party for the contamination, said Kathan; in this case the town of Halifax, as owner of the landfill. Are you testing for all PFAS chemicals?, asked Hope Phelan. There are hundreds; we’re testing for six, replied Kathan. The sixth chemical has a shorter chain. We’re testing for it, but it’s not required by the State. As yet there are no studies on potential harm from the many other PFAS compounds. If testing (of the Phelan well) shows levels higher than the 20 ppt the State allows, we would ask the Town to install a treatment system. Kathan told Peggy Rafus that PFAS-contaminated carbon used in treatment systems can be disposed of through high incineration. Phelan commented that even PFAS levels under the permissible 20 ppt did not seem healthy. 20 ppt is a conservative health advisory, said Kathan; that’s based on consuming three liters of water a day for 70 years. The federal advisory is at 70 ppt.
State Senator Becca Balint returned to the topic of keeping the testing process fair for all towns in the State. You alluded to lack of resources, she said; is that money, is that capacity? You have legislators here, we’ve been working on the issue in Bennington; if you don’t have the funds or capacity to do the testing, then that’s a problem. The State is requesting the tests, but has no funds to offer towns who are paying for the process, said Kathan. She added the State is trying to gather enough data to protect human health, but is sensitive to the financial burden on towns.
What knowledge do you have of ground water flow?, asked Phelan. When landfills were closed in the 1990s there was funding for studies, said Kathan. Originally there were six wells on the Halifax site used to determine groundwater flow. She said that although unexpected things can happen, she has confidence in the available data.
Potential property value depreciation had been mentioned earlier; Mary Brewster asked if it were possible to specifically identify affected properties, so their assessments could be adjusted. Kathan said the Town has the twice-yearly reports from KAS Environmental. Rebecca Treat advised the reports will not necessarily say a property is impacted just because it is adjacent to the landfill. We do not have any shallow wells on adjacent properties. We have tested deep groundwater wells on adjacent properties; all those have tested non-detect, with the exception of Phelan’s. Treat told Brewster that while it would be possible to drill multiple shallow wells on adjacent properties, the State is trying to weigh costs against benefits. My property line is 75 to 100 feet from the contaminated landfill, said Brad Rafus. Treat said the Rafus property is on an up-gradient, and has tested non-detect. Doesn’t matter, said Rafus; no one is going to want to buy a property with contamination that close. Is there a hydrology study?, asked Peggy Rafus. Kathan said yes, the study was done during closure, and a map and a full closure report is available.
State Senator Jeanette White, who had arrived shortly after the meeting opened, asked whether the Clean Water Fund, and its Lake Champlain clean-up mandates, included PFAS, which she feels is a clean water issue. Kathan said as far as she is aware, PFAS is not part of the Clean Water Act. Can the Town go back to major contributors to the landfill?, asked White. We do know sludge was placed in the Halifax landfill, said Kathan; however other landfills that did not receive sludge are also showing contamination. Our sites management program deals with identifying responsible parties to assist with site cleanup. However, we have managed the town landfills under the solid waste program; we have not treated them as a site in the past, but the Town could investigate that possibility. Kathan told Brewster she was not aware of any grants or other financial assistance available to towns at this time. Dennis Fekert said some money has been available for general studies, but not for financial aid to individual towns to assist with clean-up. We did try to get a bill passed that would have held St.-Gobain responsible, said Becca Balint; White said that bill was vetoed by the Governor. St.-Gobain is accepting responsibility in Bennington, where the industrial facility is located, said Kathan. Brad Rafus said the State’s letter to the Town at the beginning of the testing process made it clear Halifax had received sludge from Bennington. In places such as Halifax, sludge may be a source, said Kathan, but is not necessarily the only source. Making the link between the sludge and St.-Gobain is actively being discussed and is part of the settlement process in Bennington.
What next steps does DEC take if the numbers continue to climb with further testing?, asked John Gannon. Re-sampling of the Phelan well is the first step, then continuing to monitor MW-3, and, maybe in two years, the installation of a new landfill monitoring well, answered Kathan. If numbers keep trending up, we will be re-testing residential water supplies.
Addressing the legislators, Mary Brewster said the Town is threatened with the cost of testing, plus the loss of land value which will decrease the tax base. She asked if those factors were being included in conversations in Montpelier. Becca Balint said she does not sit on the pertinent committee, but discussions that have moved out of committee have focused on assigning responsibility rather than the effect on land values. She advised communicating with the Committee of Jurisdiction. John Gannon has not seen any reference to land values in legislation. This will be an ongoing issue, said Jeanette White; the towns should be part of the conversation. The only groups we heard from during discussion were the environmental groups, who were in favor of the bill, and the producers of the waste, who were opposed. We did not hear from the Towns; they should send someone to hearings. When we take up the bill again this year, you should go, she told Joe Tamburrino. She also advised that participation by teleconference is available, or a VLCT representative could speak to the issue. Do you see the 20 ppt threshold coming down?, asked Brad Rafus. Much will depend on the health studies that are now being done, replied Kathan. Based on what we know about the contaminants the 20 ppt is a conservative level.
What is the Town’s testing cost to date?, asked Becca Balint. Rebecca Treat estimated $1,400 per test, twice a year, plus the cost of private well testing. Laboratory analysis alone costs between $250-$350 per sample, and any time there is a detection the lab runs the field blank, which doubles the cost. Sumner recalled paying as much as $3,500. Treat said that was the cost of the earlier, more extensive landfill testing, when many elements were being monitored. The original Halifax landfill monitoring process had been satisfactorily completed and was scheduled for close-out when the PFAS issue arose.
Sumner thanked Kathan, Fekert, and Treat for coming down for the meeting. Treat told the Board the fall monitoring well test has been scheduled for next Tuesday.
High Speed Internet—John Gannon
I received an email from Mary (Brewster) outlining challenges the Town is having with Internet connections, said Gannon, and I know the Town Clerk is having problems connecting with the Secretary of State. There is a connectivity initiative out there which provides grants to providers such as Consolidated to assist in bringing service to under-served areas. Gannon handed out copies of a map from the Department of Public Service web site showing the Branch Road area of Halifax and marking all under-served addresses. Whitingham got a grant two years ago, Gannon said, and the Halifax map indicates a potential for a grant in the Halifax area. He offered to investigate the grant possibility in depth if the town is interested. Brewster, who spoke recently with a technician troubleshooting the Town’s Internet, said the Town Office has DSL at speeds just barely faster than dial-up. The technician also told her that fiber optic presently ends at the corner of Reed Hill; it could be brought to the Town Offices and in through the basement. Sumner said he would like Gannon to research the grant possibility. How long would it take?, asked Brad Rafus. It won’t be overnight, said Gannon; this round of grants in currently in the request for quote stage. Mitch Green asked Patty Dow how the DSL service compares with the Hughesnet satellite connection the Town previously used. It’s worse, said Dow. But the satellite service has a bucket, or sharing policy, which can slow speeds down to dial-up levels. Recently the Town Offices didn’t have internet at all for two weeks, and sometimes, when it is working, I can’t even access email. Dow has to use the Internet to upload voting results, and Brewster said that as of January 1st, all property transfers must be completed online. Several attempts to correct the problem, including replacing the modem, have failed. Readsboro is having the same problem, said Sumner. Brewster said something needed to be done before January 1st, and recommended both looking into grant availability and getting an estimate on the cost of bringing fiber from the Reed Hill corner. The school has fiber, Sumner told Gannon, but that happened through a special grant only available to schools and libraries, and the municipal offices could not share it, even though it’s right on the other side of the wall. Becca Balint said she could look into whether the fiber optic grant giving the school high speed service originated at federal or state level. Could we get service from the VTel tower?, asked Brad Rafus. That has been tested, said Dow; it won’t work here (at the Town Office) because of our location. Sumner thanked the Senators and Representative for participating in the meeting.
Sumner advised the next regular Selectboard meeting falls on November 6th, election day. The meeting will start at 6:00 and will be abbreviated, with business limited to signing Treasurer’s orders and setting a date for a Selectboard hearing on the updated Town Plan.
Hearing of Visitors
Selectboard’s Order to Treasurer for Payment
The Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer was reviewed and signed.
Brad Rafus made a motion to enter into executive session to discuss a personnel issue, with Gabriel invited. Mitch Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. The Board entered executive session at 8:38 p.m. They exited the session at 8:48 p.m. with no decisions made.
Correspondence was reviewed and filed.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:54 p.m.