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Select Board roundup: As PFAS remediation costs soar, questions about origins swirl

by | Apr 4, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The town’s efforts to eliminate PFAS from the water supply continue to get more expensive, while questions about where the chemicals originated continue to surface without any concrete answers.

At the 2022 Annual Town Meeting, voters approved $600,000 for the filtration project to treat the tainted well water while the town explores a connection with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority pipeline through Southborough.

However, the town is negotiating a contract with Bay State Regional Contractors for $1,198,737. Additionally, consultant Weston & Sampson has proposed a contract for construction, administration and compliance with Department of Environmental Protection permits in the amount of $217,500, and the town previously made a purchase of filtration vessels for $157,177.

That puts the total at $1,573,414, leaving a shortfall of $973,414.

At Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, Town Manager Norman Khumalo proposed funding the balance through ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds. Khumalo explained that he has the delegated authority to make that decision, but he wants to schedule a public hearing “to engage the public in this decision.”

Meanwhile, an article at HopNews suggested a former state firefighting academy located off Fruit Street, only 430 feet from the tainted Well 6, may have contaminated the water due to the academy’s use of aqueous film forming foam. The fire suppressant — along with other chemical retardants — was used at the academy from 1979-85, according to the story.

The town responded to the article Tuesday morning with a public relations statement indicating “The town is presently without knowledge to judge the truth or accuracy of these suggestions.”

On Tuesday night, Khumalo explained that there currently exists no accurate test to determine if PFAS exist in soil, so the town is deferring to state and federal authorities on the matter.

“The town at this point may not have the ability to focus on the sources of the contamination,” Khumalo said. “While it’s important to understand that wherever the PFAS is coming from would not overwhelm the new filtration system — we have received some assurances from our engineers that that will not be the case — identifying the sources of the PFAS, we’re really relying on our partners at the federal as well as state level.”

That statement did not sit well with Select Board member Muriel Kramer.

“That is not direct enough and immediate enough to satisfy me,” she said. “And there’s a couple of reasons. I’m very confident in the solution that we’re putting forward for the folks that are on public water. But the impact of what may have happened out there is also affecting people who are not on public water. So we can’t not know what has gone on out there with some assurance for the folks that are on the downstream side of what may have happened there who are on private wells. So for me, I think we need to get a little enthusiastic about really digging in, asking our Board of Health to lean in on this, and certainly asking the state. If it was a regional fire academy, the state should also be invested in helping us out [to determine if] it was a safe activity. So I want to find out what all of our options are.”

Clarified Khumalo: “The town will not leave any stone unturned in identifying where this comes from. Currently, we have very limited knowledge on how to test for PFAS that are on land.”

The town encourages residents who have questions or concerns regarding PFAS in private wells to contact the Health Services Department at 508-497-9725.

DPW director to depart

The board offered thanks to Department of Public Works Director John Westerling, who will be leaving the town for a new job.

Westerling said the job change was “not an easy decision for me to make.”

“Hopkinton has been home for the past 12 years,” he said. “The Town of Hopkinton has been a very rewarding career choice for me 12 years ago to make, because Hopkinton and its residents understand the importance of the work that everybody at the Department of Public Works does and the importance of infrastructure to the community. The community has been extremely supportive of the Department of Public Works with our new facility, with the infrastructure that we propose, and I have been blessed to be working with such professionals and dedicated employees that we have in the Department of Public Works, number one, but also with my colleagues in other departments. It has truly been a very rewarding experience for me. So I send my thanks to the community, to the residents and to everyone who has been so supportive. Thank you very much.”

Main Street discussions continue

Khumalo said representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) visited Monday and were receptive to suggestions by the town for design tweaks. MassDOT is to provide an official response after a more thorough review.

The town suggested widening two sections of roadway and adding trees.

“We are requesting at a minimum an additional 11 trees to be planted, especially from the Fire Station going back to Wood Street,” Khumalo said. “We are a small suburban town in New England, and we love our trees.”

Town Meeting nears

The board discussed plans for Annual Town Meeting on May 1. There are 48 articles on the warrant.

Khumalo said the town is considering sending a postcard to all residents reminding them of Town Meeting details in an effort to boost attendance.

He also said that he is “cautiously optimistic” there will be electronic voting at this year’s Annual Town Meeting. The town experimented with electronic voting a few years ago, but it was abandoned after one meeting after internet connectivity issues arose.

Marathon preparations continue

Members of the town’s Police Department, Fire Department, Public Safety Communications and DPW updated the board on preparations for the April 17 Boston Marathon. Police Chief Joseph Bennett gave assurances that the race will be a safe environment.

“We’ll make sure we put our best foot forward as the world’s attention is focused on Hopkinton,” added Westerling. …

The board also voted for a proclamation and gift to be presented to the Town of Ashland to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the last time Ashland hosted the start of the Boston Marathon. Ashland town officials are to accept the recognition during an event Thursday at the Hopkinton Center for the Arts.

Misc.: Mexican restaurant welcomed

Mauricio and Elizabeth Bremermann, who plan to open Orale Mexican Cuisine at 22-24 Main Street, were welcomed by the board. The restaurant will serve Mexican Southwestern food and plans to have live music and karaoke.

The owners’ application for a common victualer license and an entertainment license will be addressed at a future meeting. …

The board approved the expenditure of all money ($1,094,024) in the School Special Education Reserve Fund in order to cover out-of-district tuition of fiscal year 2023. The fund was created at the May 2022 Town Meeting and required a majority vote of the School Committee and Select Board to extend the appropriation. …

Aline Matos was confirmed as a new public safety dispatcher. She had been working part-time in the same capacity for the past year, and she served a one-year internship with the Police Department the year previous. …

The board accepted the resignation of Kathy Yang from the Sustainable Green Committee.

4 Comments

  1. Aaron Townsley

    That statement about not being able to test for PFAS is soil is, at best, not accurate. It is true that as a newer contaminant in the environmental assessment realm there is a lag for federal and state reviewed and approved testing measures. EPA has approved a testing methodology. https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-first-validated-laboratory-method-test-pfas-wastewater-surface-water . And MassDEP is working with private and public entities across the state to assess PFAS contaminated sites.

  2. Al Paliulis

    Westerling obviously met his pension requirements as all our public “servants” have done recently.

    • J. Tyson

      Water remediation municipalities and private corporations are using PFAS as a flocculent and coagulant, during the process of water remediation. As an added benefit they get to take home the slurry of heavy metals, including rare earth metals and gold.

      It turns out that drilling companies that are often exploring for oil, use pfas as a lubricant, during the drilling process.

      Gold mining companies use pfas, as a flocculent and coagulant, during the “flotation” phase, of gold recovery.

      And now, as a result of this widespread use of an industry, individuals took home this technology and began “air-sparging” their personal water wells, with untold amounts of proprietary mixtures of PFAS, in hopes of recovering gold.

      Unless you have a gold mine in your backyard, chances are that your own town citizens are sparging the groundwater with PFAS, in hopes of recovering gold.

  3. BR

    On PFAS – I haven’t heard any directive -So what do we do -if we water our lawns with PFAS “infested” water then we are contaminating our Hopkinton soil. If you abut a house on well water especially what do you do?

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