2007-04-26 / News

Island aquifer designation gains momentum

By Dotti Farrington

Town Councilors last week agreed to hear more details about the petition initiated more than a year ago by the Concerned Conanicut Citizens (CCC) for a sole source aquifer designation from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The council agreed to host a presentation about the aquifer at a future meeting. They had been rebuffing the CCC effort since early 2006 because it was so closely connected with opposition issues at the former town landfill.

The change in the council position is coming after several actions to explain the petition implications, including recommendation by the town Water Resource Protection Committee. That committee said it supported the petition if specific examples of water quality issues, especially the landfill concerns, were removed from the petition.

Ellen Winsor, leader of the petition movement, told the council that CCC has agreed to the town request about the petition data. She said Douglas Heath, an EPA offi- cial, told her "it is more important to deal locally with challenges, and not whether they are mentioned in the petition for the designation. It is acceptable if the petition represents an 'eternal document' not tied to specific situations."

Winsor said CCC is starting a drive to gather resident signatures to show support for the designation. CCC sees it as one of many "important steps to protect the island's water, regardless of the EPA role," Winsor said.

Councilor William Kelly started questioning Winsor about her qualifications to speak on technical and environmental factors. Before she answered, Council President David Long said "any citizen can work on a petition," and nothing further was said at the meeting. Kelly said after the meeting that he wanted it known that he expects matters brought to the council be presented by persons "qualified to do so."

Committee support

The Water Resource Protection Committee recommended the council "support the Single Source Aquifer petition subject to removal of linkage and reference to specific present issues. This was unanimously approved in our meeting on March 22."

The committee, through its chairman, Jack Hubbard, explained in its letter of support that "In discussion it was expressed that linkages to present specific issues could be interpreted as support of matters that do not fall under the scope of the EPA's Sole Source Aquifer Protection Program."

The town administrator requested the linkage change to avoid the appearance of taking any action that might compromise the town's plans to close the former landfill. The committee also did not want to jeopardize the possibility of building a highway barn at or near the landfill.

Any individual or group may petition for the designation, but a community needs to provide certain data for EPA to act on the petition. Keiser told the committee the costs and time to gather the required data are nominal.

Federal and state roles

Heath spoke here in February to explain the designation process and its significance. He said it was not likely to impact many or any projects in Jamestown. He said the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) would handle most or all project oversight and EPA would not duplicate or interfere with DEM work.

Heath said the net effect of the structure of Jamestown's geology is that it represents a sole source aquifer, with no separate watersheds for each section of the island. He emphasized the main benefit of the designation is a new array of opportunities to educate residents about safeguarding the aquifer as the main source of water for all residents.

DEM several months ago said it supports the Jamestown petition, and said the designation would have no impact on activities at the town landfill.

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