2007-02-01 / Letters to the Editor

Aquifer designation

Probably few Jamestown residents were aware of a very important public information meeting held on Tuesday, Jan. 23, at 2:30 p.m. in the Jamestown library. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the status of an ongoing effort to obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designation of our subsurface fresh water aquifer(s) as a Sole Source Aquifer (SSA) for all of Conanicut Island. At the invitation of Bruce Keiser and the Water Resources Protection Committee, Mr. Doug Heath, regional EPA coordinator for this SSA petition, provided an excellent summary brief of the "what", "why", "how" and the merits of obtaining this federal designation.

The SSA designation mandates EPA oversight over any proposed federally funded construction project that might adversely affect the principle (greater than 50 percent) drinking water source in a designated area such that, if contaminated would create a significant hazard to public health. Although not federally mandated, any similar proposed construction project that is state and/or locally-funded would tend to comply with the environmental safety policy guidelines set by the EPA SSA designation. Jamestown is a legitimate candidate for this designation because all of us , whether on public or private water, get our drinking water exclusively from on-island, organic sources, including the aquifer(s) that provide 60 percent of our drinking water, and the surface runoff which collects in the reservoir(s) that provide 40 percent of our drinking water, some of which is supplemented by aquifer water. Within the last 15 to 20 years, many concerned communities throughout the country with fragile sources of drinking water, particularly island communities, have sought and achieved the environmentally-protective SSA designation. In New England, these include Block Island, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and several islands off the coast of Maine.

Given the importance, the far-reaching implications and the positive community benefits of this SSA designation, I was somewhat disappointed at the relatively

small size of the audience at the meeting . . . perhaps due to inadequate advertisement of the meeting and/or inadequate local awareness?

Furthermore, during the Q&A session of the meeting, I detected a slight underlying current of cynicism and skepticism from a few audience members and community leaders . . . perhaps related to the recent community-divisive issue of the tentative town plans to build a Department of Public Works garage facility directly upon the former landfill at the transfer station off North Road. During the past year, this plan was vigorously opposed by a group of North End Concerned Citizens due to the potential risk of contamination of nearby private well-water if the landfill was disturbed during the facility construction process without the concurrent application of rigorous environmental safety precautions. Note that some of the members of this group were also the originators, in late 2005, of the application process for the islandwide SSA designation. However, it is unfortunate that the bitterness of the landfill issue tends, in the minds of some, to cloud the merits of the SSA application. It seems that some community members still harbor lingering bitterness and appear to be unable to de-couple the island-wide EPA SSA designation process, that is for the common good of all island residents, from the local, contentious, site-specific landfill issue. Unfortunately, even though the issues are distinctly different in scope and application, some still tend to paint one with the stigma of the other.

Given our history of chronic drinking-water shortages, and the ominous long-term implications of global warming, it is vital that we take all measures necessary to protect our fragile and only source of potable water. Clean water is a precious commodity that is absolutely necessary for our community's viability and survival. Therefore, I believe that it is not only prudent, but imperative, that our entire community, including our community leaders, come together as one in full support of obtaining this SSA designation for Jamestown as soon as possible. This designation will have profound positive implications for our entire island community . . . for generations to come. We must all work together to be good stewards of our common, precious environmental resources. We cannot afford to squander away our future…the public safety and welfare of our children and our grandchildren . . . due to misguided pettiness!

John G. Shannon,

Columbia Lane

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