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Portsmouth mayor to testify about Coakley Landfill bill

Union Leader Correspondent

March 20. 2018 11:06PM
Portsmouth Mayor Jack Blalock will testify about the implications of HB 1766 which would require a water treatment system be installed at Coakley Landfill. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH — City councilors in Portsmouth unanimously voted to have Mayor Jack Blalock testify about a bill the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed earlier this month which would require the installation of a water pump and treatment system at Coakley Landfill.

HB 1766 declares the Superfund site in Greenland and North Hampton an imminent hazard due to threats to public and private drinking water as well as local surface water.

Recent testing has found the perfluorochemicals PFOA and PFOS as well as 1,4-dioxane in the groundwater at the landfill.

The bill compels the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to require parties that dumped waste from off-site locations to install upgradient wells west of the landfill near the outermost plume. Collected groundwater would be pumped through pipes to a treatment facility.

The capital cost is expected to be about $7 million.

Portsmouth is the primary municipality that dumped waste at the 27-acre landfill before it closed.

On Monday night, City Attorney Robert Sullivan said HB 1766 is flawed in a number of ways. He said that if the bill is passed by the state Senate and signed by the governor, it would be an unfunded mandate and ex-post facto law, violating the state and U.S. constitutions.

“The responsible parties agreed to remediate that landfill in a way determined by the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), so that is the obligation of Portsmouth and all the responsible parties,” Sullivan said. “The item of legislation going to the Senate in New Hampshire right now would require the DES to order the responsible parties to build a different remedy.”

Earlier this month, EPA Region 1 spokesman Dave Deegan said the EPA worked closely with the state in 1999 when they made the decision that an originally agreed to groundwater extraction and treatment system would not be necessary. Officials reached that decision after carefully evaluating data which showed reduced levels of detected pollutants.

The 1999 consent decree was approved by United States District Court Judge Shane Devine.

Blalock said his testimony would be limited to how passage of HB 1766 would affect Portsmouth legally.

“Just to clarify, this isn’t arguing the science,” Blalock said.

NH DES Waste Division Director Michael Wimsatt said in an interview earlier this month he understands members of the public are concerned about the Superfund site and curious about what happened to the $5.25 million the federal government gave Coakley Landfill Group to install a water treatment system. Wimsatt said the money from the EPA was to pay for the Navy and Air Force’s share of remediation efforts.

Wimsatt said it is not his role at DES to track what happened to those funds.

“We have a role in making sure the work is done. How they pay for it is not our concern,” Wimsatt said.

John Bohenko, Portsmouth’s city manager, said staff members are working to see how taxpayer money given to Coakley Landfill Group for remediation was used. They plan to pair that with voting records from the group’s board.

Bohenko said that information should be publicly available in two to three months.

Environment General News Health Greenland North Hampton Portsmouth

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