The U.S. Department of Defense states it will not pay for past work performed in connection with perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) contamination of the City of Newburgh drinking water reservoir at Washington Lake or surrounding public and private wells in the towns of Newburgh and New Windsor.
That is according to a DoD statement which comes more than a year after the discovery of elevated levels of PFOS in the lake and surrounding drinking watershed.
State sampling has shown the contamination came from the nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base. Alongside local municipalities, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has carried out millions of dollars in remediation work since the water crisis emerged in May last year.
DoD digs in
“Reimbursement for past expenditures are not authorized,” DoD spokesman Adam Stump said in an email to the Mid Hudson Times on Tuesday. “The Department of Defense defines past expenditures as anything that the community expended prior to having a signed cooperative agreement with the Air National Guard or other appropriate DoD entity, regardless of fiscal year.”
However, Stump said the Air National Guard would “renew discussions aimed at developing cooperative agreements to mitigate locations with PFOS/PFOA drinking water exceedances.” The cooperative agreement(s) would lay out specific “terms of what DoD can pay for,” he wrote.
The DEC shot back in a statement on Friday, accusing the DoD of continuing to “shirk” its responsibilities.
“While DoD’s commitment to negotiate on future agreements is long overdue, the state is deeply concerned that DoD continues to shirk their responsibility to pay for these past investments to protect public health.”
“DoD must follow the ‘polluter pays’ principle, and we will carefully review this advisory and forthcoming guidance and take any necessary actions to ensure the state and our communities are not left footing the bill for the actions we took to protect residents from DoD contamination.”
The DEC went on to state it would proceed with cleanup work, regardless of inaction on the part of DoD. “The state’s primary concern is for the protection of public health and the environment,” the statement read. “We will continue to address PFC contamination in the face of any failure by DoD to do so.”
To date, the DEC has spent almost $24 million on work related to the water crisis affecting Newburgh and New Windsor. And, according to the DEC, the agency is “contractually obligated to spend an additional $26 million to address the contamination in these communities.”
The state Department of Health has spent approximately $1 million on the regional PFOS blood-testing program, the DEC adds. The state also spent tens of millions in additional monies on cleanup efforts for PFOS-contaminated drinking water surrounding Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Suffolk County.
A massive undertaking
A full overhaul of the city’s water treatment plant off Little Britain Road is underway as part of water-infrastructure improvement initiatives spurred by the crisis.
A new 1.2 million-gallon storage tank loomed large at the site over the weekend. The $5 million tank, already online, sits next to a mammoth building under construction to house the city’s new granular-activated carbon filtration system, designed to remove PFOS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and other contaminants.
When completed, the system will be able to process 8.8 million gallons of raw water per day, said city water Superintendent Wayne Vradenburgh.
Eighteen gargantuan-sized filtration tanks stood about 30 feet tall inside the building, dwarfing a handful of visitors who walked around on a tour of the new plant on Saturday.
Plant renovations are on track for completion by January, Vradenburgh said. Until recently, the city had been on a nail-biting deadline to finish the project by October, when the New York City Department of Environmental Protection was expected to close the Catskill Aqueduct for 10 weeks of repairs.
The shutdown was recently pushed back to October, 2018. “It gives us a little breathing room,” Vradenburgh said.
By SHANTAL RILEY