One year after the Village of Hoosick Falls tabled a controversial settlement agreement, the Rensselaer County community has agreed to accept payments from companies blamed for polluting local water supplies.
Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen opened a special village board meeting Tuesday night by reading a resolution to accept a more than $331,000 payment from Saint-Gobain and Honeywell, two companies blamed for the presence of PFOA and other volatile organic compounds in local water supplies…
“And whereas, such offer by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell to make such payment to the Village of Hoosick Falls is made with acknowledgement by Saint-Gobain and Honeywell that the village will not provide any release to such companies for such payment and that the village retains all rights and claims that the village may have relative to expenses and lost revenue not being reimbursed by Saint-Gobain and Honeywell herein.”
The meeting came exactly one year after the village board voted to table a $1 million partial settlement agreement with the companies amid widespread community opposition.
That settlement would have reimbursed certain costs incurred by the village in its response to the contamination that was first discovered in 2014, but would have also prohibited the village from seeking further payment for those services.
A year later, the village has a new mayor and a new prominent environmental attorney, David Engel of Albany firm Nolan & Heller. In January, the village voted to allow the firm to take legal action against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell.
A permanent filtration system has been installed on the village water system and point-of-entry systems have been installed on homes with private wells. The remediation efforts are part of a consent order between the companies and New York state.
Both Mayor Allen and Engel were among the crowd that spoke out against the proposed settlement negotiated under the council led by previous mayor David Borge, who did not seek reelection.
Now representing the village, Engel contrasted the motion on the table Tuesday night, which does not release the companies from liability, with last year’s settlement offer.
“You should also recall that last year’s settlement only covered costs up to the date of the settlement and would have barred any further recovery for costs thereafter. By accepting this payment right now, we are taking the bare minimum that the companies are willing to give up at this point, and we retain the right to go after further costs,” said Engel. “And the village incurs costs every day.”
The village had approached the companies seeking more than $700,000. The agree-to $331,000 covers engineering and other direct costs but does not cover items like lost water and sewer revenues.
Engel said Tuesday’s resolution is not a full or interim settlement.
“There is no downside here, we are giving up nothing. We are getting money that they owe the village and they should have paid a long time ago. And even as you and I are here this evening, the amount of money that the village is owed by the companies goes up moment by moment,” said Engel.
The calm demeanor of those seated in the small village board room contrasted sharply with the explosive 2017 meeting where residents brought signs and booed the proposed settlement.
With last year’s settlement offer on her mind, resident Yvette MacIntosh Sauer told Mayor Allen she was concerned that taking money now would affect future reimbursement.
“That settlement, that was just unfair. We were being sold cheaply, OK?” said MacIntosh Sauer.
“What we’re doing tonight will have no effect on any of that,” said Allen.
Some in the audience remain concerned about a stigma attached to the ongoing issues.
Village trustee Brian Bushner asked for patience and pointed to Hoosick Falls’ regarded legal representation and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s ongoing work to find a new permanent water supply for the village. Currently, the agency is studying bringing clean water to Hoosick Falls from the Tomhannock Reservoir, about 10 miles away.
“All these processes take time, but when we figure what we’re doing with that as well, I think our stigma problems are solved.”
Resident Kevin Allard sees acceptance of the payments as a start.
“The people in the village of Hoosick Falls are still drinking remediated water out of a Superfund site. And its de facto remediation that the people of Hoosick Falls are paying full price for. And they need to be compensated for that,” said Allard. “So I can see that we’ve got a great start and that you’ve got a great future moving forward. And I say to that: go get ‘em.”
The village board voted to accept the payment unanimously. Mayor Allen said the money would go toward the village’s fund balance.
The village owes more than a half-million dollars to a different law firm for services provided under the previous administration in response to the PFOA issue.
In a statement, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics spokeswoman Dina Pokedoff said the companies were pleased to see the village accept the funds. She goes on to say in part, “Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell have been in continuous dialogue with this administration, as well as the previous administration, to provide reimbursements to the Village for the costs it incurred regarding the treatment systems that ensure Village residents have access to potable drinking water.”