As I met one evening last week with a group of neighbors negatively impacted by the water drilling and exploration project being conducted at a quarry at 101 Plains Road, I felt compassion at the situation in which they find themselves.
I could see the fear, worry and anxiety in their faces as they sat around the dining-room table discussing the fact that, coincident with the test pumping of hundreds of gallons per hour over long periods of time, they had begun to experience a number of problems with their water supplies, ranging from their wells going dry, contamination of the water from coliform and/or E. coli bacteria, burned-out pump motors and the rotten egg smell of sulfur from their formerly pure water.
I was alarmed at the stories I was told and the documents I was shown that indicated either a lack of understanding or lack of caring on the part of both village and town elected officials, who appear to understand that something really is rotten with this drilling and exploration project but who also hope it will all just go away if they simply downplay, dismiss and denigrate the concerns and complaints of the affected homeowners.
Another cause for alarm has to do with the apparent relinquishment of their lawful responsibilities on the part of village officials as they continue to defer to paid engineering consultants who have a vested interest in covering up any mistakes they may have made in carrying out the exploratory drilling project. These same elected officials have so far refused to authorize an independent review of the quality of the work conducted so far, despite the pleas of the affected residents.
A few nights later I felt admiration for many of these same individuals as I watched them speak truth to power at a joint meeting of the village and town government officials. They calmly read their prepared comments into the public record, itemizing the specific types of damage to their wells, well water and water pumps that have occurred in the past few months. They stated that they had lost confidence in the plan, procedures and methodologies that are all part of what is now officially being referred to by the village board as the Freshwater Exploration Project. The residents further reported that they had lost trust in the engineer hired by the village to oversee the project. They called for his removal and requested an independent investigation.
At the conclusion of the public comment period, village board member Sally Rhoads stated that, based on the email exchanges she had read between the residents and engineer, she had concluded that all their concerns had been or were being addressed. I also have seen the correspondence, and I can assure you that this is not the case. For example, one resident wrote to the village informing them that her well had run dry soon after the exploratory drilling on Plains Road had begun and expressed her fear that the water volumes available in her home and the underlying aquifer would never recover. The engineer’s response described surrounding soil and gravel types and never once referred to the water-volume concern.
Another resident whose well was contaminated with coliform coincident with the exploration pumping was told, “We may never know [whether] the coliform in your well was part of the [exploration project] or the repeated openings of your well to the atmosphere during sampling .…” Since no testing was ever conducted to establish a baseline before a drill ever touched the ground, of course we may never know. Establishing such a baseline is the responsibility of the village and the engineer, not the individual homeowner.
Yet another resident was denied the bottled water being provided by the town because she had hired an independently licensed firm to test her well. The chain of custody for her test was clearly documented. The results of tests conducted by the village were communicated to the residents verbally and in emails only, with no chain of custody provided. The refusal of bottled water by the village to a resident who felt more comfortable having her well tested by an independent firm appears petty and unnecessarily punitive. It is ironic that village officials choose not to trust the integrity of a member of the New Paltz community, yet appear offended when the integrity of the entire Freshwater Exploration Project is questioned by the Plains Road residents who are truly the victims in all of this.
Ms. Rhoads concluded her comments with a strong endorsement of the work of the engineer and chided those who had spoken during the public comment period “to perhaps be a little more cautious in some of the things that are stated publicly,” following which mayor Jason West noted, “I agree with everything that Sally said.”
With regard to the technical aspects and timelines of the project, village trustee Tom Rocco provided an update which served to focus attention on an important meeting scheduled for next Tuesday, September 30 at the village hall, at which time a final report will be delivered by the engineer in question.
Something is rotten about this project, and it is not just the smell of sulfur. What has a bad smell is the way it has been handled from the very beginning and how citizens’ pleas for help are being dismissed or ignored. Any one of us at any time could find ourselves in a similar situation, and our only protection against potential misfeasance or malfeasance on the part of our government officials and their hired consultants is to remain well informed and provide those individuals with timely feedback on their actions.
I encourage our readers to attend the September 30 village board meeting, consider the plight of our neighbors on Plains Road, and do and say whatever you think is best for our entire community, despite Ms. Rhoads’ presumptuous, unsolicited and unwelcome advice to the contrary.