State-level talk scheduled on contaminated Jamestown wells
State Representative Bruce Long (R-Jamestown, Middletown) reported this week that a state-level meeting has been arranged to talk with Jamestown residents concerned about private water-well contamination as it relates to overdevelopment.
Long said that he and state Senator Teresa Paiva Weed (DJamestown, Newport) have arranged the meeting for Dec. 12 in Providence with leaders mainly from the state Department of Environmental Management and its Office of Policy and Management.
Although pollution of one or more water wells has been a hot issue for some Jamestown residents, Long said, “It is not just Jamestown, but all rural areas that have both ISDS (individual sewage disposal) systems and water wells.
“What has happened is that considerations (variances) are given to individual systems, and what is needed is a global approach about the accumulation of impacts. Each system may meet guidelines, but the accumulation of impacts is not known,” Long said.
Long praised Jamestown leaders for the efforts that have been made here in recent years to monitor and control property development where high ground water effects septic systems and water wells. He said the work needs to continue and that all authorities need to be more responsive to engineering and scientific data about the impacts of septic systems on water wells and all water sources.
Until more is known, Long suggested, both the DEM and town officials need to be more conservative about approving septic systems that are located near wells and require variances. “Some local boards feel that they have lost their power because the state gives approvals. The boards are fearful of diminishing the value of property as if it were a land-taking,” he noted.
Long said some lots that have long been assessed as unbuildable and therefore not subject to full taxation are being pushed for development. However, some abutters have claimed they are detriments to the neighborhood.
“Some people are going to try to say that I am being anti-business, anti-development. I am for development that does not hurt the rights and values of others,” Long said.
The efforts that will be discussed at the upcoming meeting will be the voluntary testing of wells and sharing of information about the test results among owners of clusters of properties where the overdevelopment problem seems to be surfacing, Long noted. Some of the problems reflect the DEM’s position that it has no authority over private wells, and consequently, there is no database on tainted wells.
The issue became public when a Jamestown Shores couple told the Town Council on Nov 14 about the three years of unsolved problems they had been having due to their contaminated household well.
The couple, David and Jeanne Albrektson of Schooner Avenue, began to unveil their “dirty little secret” months ago as they set basic goals: to identify the source of contamination, correct it, and prevent a recurrence. The lack of help they received from local and state authorities led to more needs.
The Albrektsons said they need to find others with contaminated well water as part of their efforts to fully define the problem and to create solutions. They admitted that well contamination ordinarily is a secret guarded by property owners. They described “how difficult it is to admit your well is spoiled and how frustrating it is that no one will help you find why it is contaminated.”
The Albrektsons said the pollution is fecal coliform bacteria, and it is being treated. They are convinced it is coming from new septic systems in their neighborhood that were allowed to be placed too close to wells. They believe that factor is combined with the general overdevelopment of Jamestown Shores. However, they cannot prove the exact source of the pollution of their well.
After a five month investigation, the state agreed that Jamestown Shores has problems. However, the DEM contends it focuses its attention on the need for septic systems and does not have authority over private wells.
The DEM is pushing for replacements of failed cesspools with high-tech septic systems. As much as that would help some areas, Jamestown officials, and Shores residents fear it can be counterproductive in some cases if not handled properly.
The DEM says its decisions do not “involve any compromise with regard to environmental protection,” but it admits that new technology “is not recognized as eliminating or effectively compensating for all risks associated with reduced setbacks (distances between septic systems and wells).”
The status of the Albrektson saga is that the DEM concluded that it could not help them but would study the matter further if the state legislature could create some law that would help.
Charlotte Zarlengo, president of the Jamestown Shores Association, said at the Nov. 14 council meeting that water well contamination “is evidence of the existing and potential problems.”
She listed problems that “all pose potential environmental problems” through variances.
“Everyone in Jamestown is vulnerable. We all get our water from the same lens (source). It is the obligation of the town to do everything possible to locate the source of this (Albrektson) pollution and eliminate it. This health and safety issue, if not addressed, could potentially affect many residents of the town,” she noted.