Hoosick Falls Tables Revised Settlement Agreement
The Village of Hoosick Falls has tabled a revised $1 million partial release and settlement agreement with the companies deemed responsible for polluting the municipal water supply with the chemical PFOA. A special meeting was held Monday night.
A proposed $850,000 settlement between the village and companies Honeywell and Saint-Gobain was tabled in January after widespread opposition.
A new version up for a vote Monday night was bumped up to $1.04 million and sought to reimburse the village for costs incurred during its response to the PFOA contamination, including legal and consulting fees, an engineering study, and the hiring of a public relations firm.
Since the revised agreement was introduced last week, high-profile individuals including U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wrote to village asking officials to vote against it in its current form.
For more than an hour Monday night, individuals involved in federal and state government, lawyers, doctors, and vocal Hoosick Falls residents urged village trustees to do the same.
That included former U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, a Rensselaer County resident.
“This is a really good deal for Honeywell. This is a really good deal for Saint-Gobain. But this is not quality document that you should be signing tonight on behalf of the residents of Hoosick Falls,” said Enck to applause.
Those speaking out took issue with language in the settlement and partial release that would prevent the village from suing the companies over future issues related to PFOA contamination in three wells where the chemical was found — and the municipal water system in its current configuration.
The system has been outfitted with a filtration system, paid for by company Saint-Gobain.
Dr. Howard Freed, former New York State Director of the Center for Environmental Health, also took to the podium.
“And I’m quite sure, although it’s only my opinion, that if you don’t sign, they’ll come back with a third offer that’s a lot more than this. But they want you to sign away your legal rights even if it’s just the legal rights for those three wells, because as it was just pointed out, that’s the problem that we know. Why would we give away the right to seek legal recourse?” asked Freed.
Costs such as future bio-monitoring, damages to public health, and many others were not covered in the settlement. Both Saint-Gobain and Honeywell have entered a consent order with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Noting the tension in the room, Nicholas Blais, who grew up in Hoosick Falls, made his plea to the village board.
“I didn’t come here to attack the board because that doesn’t unify us as a community. I think it’s water under the bridge but I think it’s safe to say that the way this was handled was botched. And I think we owe it to the sake of public integrity to table this and put it off to the new board, and that’s all that I have to say,” said Blais.
Village elections will be held in three weeks. Afterward, there will be four new faces on the board including the mayor.
At the end of a long night, Deputy Mayor Ric DiDonato, who is one of the trustees stepping down, spoke to the crowd in support of tabling the agreement.
“That we relook at this and let perhaps the next administration be able to do a better job with this. But, let me say right now, our next administration has absolutely no experience either. I’m putting my faith in you. That you will be able to do a better job than I have been able to do on this. You have my support,” said DiDonato.
All village trustees voted to table the agreement a second time with the exception of Mayor David Borge, who warned of future costs associated with a loan to cover expenses in the absence of a settlement agreement.
“We won’t be making a loan tonight or tomorrow, but it is a cumbersome and time-consuming process,” said Borge.
Senator Gillibrand, who did not attend Monday night but sent a staffer, released a statement about an hour after the agreement was tabled. She said in part:
“Democracy is at its best when citizens are engaged and have an active stake in their future. I stand ready to help the community in any way I can.”