2006-12-28 / Front Page

Aquifer work not tied to landfill opposition

By Dotti Farrington

A relatively new effort to get the island federal designation as a sole source aquifer is being incorrectly tied to the outcome of opposition by north end residents to landfill activities, according to the residents.

The aquifer work is an outgrowth of the north enders’ landfill positions, including opposition to a new town highway barn at the former landfill. However, the sole-source status, if received, will not affect the landfill closure or the construction of a highway barn, and is not hinged to whatever happens to the landfill and barn options, according to the leaders and core members of the North End Concerned Citizens, who are the same organizers and activists for the new Conanicut Concerned Citizens, the group seeking solesource aquifer status.

The NECC is most closely associated with Ray Iannetta and Norma Willis, as well as Susan Little, Rosemary Woodside, Sav Rebecchi, and Ellen Windsor. The six residents also are the leaders who signed on as the CCC, with Windsor being the primary worker on the aquifer effort.

The CCC was formed earlier this year when the NECC learned about it during their work on the landfill and barn issues. With Winsor in the CCC leadership role, CCC has been working with the New England division of the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the aquifer designation.

The work through the EPA has been interpreted by many as a way to possibly impact the efforts to locate a highway barn at the former landfill site. Winsor said this week that the goal for the sole-aquifer designation has always has been for the broader goal of long-term protection of the island’s general water supply. She suggested that the NECC first approached its study of the aquifer designation as part of its goal, but soon learned it could not be a factor. She said the NECC nonetheless saw implications for the designation for overall water source protection regardless of the outcome of work at the landfill.

Meanwhile, Town Councilman William Kelly last week connected the aquifer designation as a device known to be used by people “with deep pockets and the right political connections” to block certain types of pubic facilities in rich neighborhoods and to force the needed but unpopular projects to be constructed in poorer or less influential neighborhoods. Kelly also suggested that NECC efforts may have led the state Department of Environmental Management to be more cautious with its requirements for the landfill closure plans and the highway barn proposal.

Sole-source goals

Winsor listed the aquifer goals as: protection of bedrock water now and in the future; protection of both municipal water sources and private well water; and raising the awareness of “those who live on Conanicut Island and those who visit seasonally and may choose to live, develop and do business on this fragile aquifer. Jamestown is an island with a fragile ecosystem.”

Winsor said, “The goal for a sole-source aquifer (designation) for Jamestown is a quest unto itself. What I have learned from weighing the risks versus the rewards, and the successes and failures nationwide, (is that) Jamestown has highly fractured bedrock and only one vulnerable aquifer, and a public water system that now barely serves the 43 percent currently drawing water from it into their homes. (The information) led me to know we need to actively protect Jamestown’s water supply, the bedrock aquifer, the wetlands and aquifer, the reservoir and private well recharge land.”

Winsor explained that lawyers and engineers helped the NECC/ CCC “sift through the myriad of regulations” with landfills, helped sort through application details, and helped write a narrative and compile federal, state, and town documents for seeking the designation.

She said, “The issue of remediation of the Jamestown landfill is

a separate issue, which began with residents concern for private well safety, but is not the reason for the SSA application. Through the process of gaining information about the island’s aquifer, residents realized we should be asking for aquifer designation.”

She also said, “The tenor of comments at the (Dec. 11) Town Council meeting were collegial and without suggestion of controversy. I spoke about other EPA designated sole source aquifers such as Vinyl Haven Island, Mohegan Island, all of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard Island, Nantucket Island, Block Island and the two inland Rhode Island designated aquifers, the Pawcatuck River and the Hunt- Annaquatucket-Pettaquamscutt and the towns they encompass.

The EPA defines a sole- or principal source aquifer as one that supplies at least 50 percent of the drinking water consumed in the area overlying the aquifer.

According to the state Department of Health, Jamestown has 57 percent of its population on private wells.

“Actually 100 per cent of Jamestowners are reliant on the aquifer because the municipal wells, which are drilled down into the aquifer and draw on the aquifer, supplement the reservoir,” Winsor noted “This aquifer supplementation of the reservoir provides 10 to 15 percent of the public drinking water supply. The Safe Water Drinking Act of 1974 requires protection of sole or principal drinking water supplies,” she added.

DEM Director Michael Sullivan endorsed the CCC petition for the sole-source aquifer designation for Jamestown in a letter to Doug Heath, the EPA’s co-ordinator of the aquifer program for New England. The town is planning to ask Heath give a presentation about the program at a meeting of the town Water Resources Protection Committee meeting in January.

As part of the petition process, the EPA is looking for letters from officials and citizens, individually or as organizations, in support of the Conanicut Island aquifer petition. Such letters may be sent to Heath at the EPA Office of Ecosystem Protection-New England, 1 Congress St., Suite 1100, CDW, Boston, MA 02114-2023. Information may be obtained from Heath at (617) 918-1585.

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