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The state investigation into the source of the chemical contamination that has made at least nine wells along Layfield and Hoffmansville Roads unsafe from which to drink will continue while the state moves ahead to provide public water to those and a half dozen other homes whose wells are contaminated but not yet considered unsafe.
That was among several pieces of information revealed Tuesday night during a public hearing on the proposal to extend the water line and which was attended by about 50 people.
Although it does not become official until the Jan. 18 comment period ends, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection seems determined to enact its recommendation of extending a Superior Water Co. line from Boyertown Junior High East, where Tuesday night’s hearing was held, east along Big Road, then north on Layfield Road to the intersection with Hoffmansville Road, where it will branch out to the homes affected.
Ragesh Patel, manager of the the Southeast Regional DEP’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program, said getting a reliable supply of clean water to those whose wells are polluted and are now using in-house filtration systems and bottled water, is the department’s first priority.
Although hook-up to the system would be free, residents would face monthly water bills from Superior from that point forward, said DEP spokeswoman Lynda Rebarchak.
State officials did not know how much residents receiving this water will pay, but Rebarchak said “it seems like an expense, but it will is unlikely to be any more than it costs for a well, when you consider all the testing that should be done and the cost of electricity for running the pump,” a remark which elicited scoffs from the audience.
The Superior Water Co. web site lists a monthly rate of $16.80 for its smallest water meter, as well as a charge of $9.53 for every 1,000 gallons.
According to the American Water Works Association, the average American home consumes 127,400 gallons per year.
Under that scenario, an average customer with that meter would pay Superior more than $1,400 per year for water.
Rebarchak said the DEP could provide information on how to conserve water.
She further said that although the investigation into the source of the pollution could result in identifying a responsible source, the only money the state would seek from that source is the reimbursement of the cost of the investigation, as well as the money spent extending the water line, sealing the existing wells and hooking up the households to the water line.
Residents seeking to have their water bills paid by the polluter as well would have to take legal action on their own, she said.
Even if the site is eventually cleaned up, the residents affected would be unable to go back to well water.
“Once you have public water, you have it for life,” Rebarchak said. “Even if the site is cleaned up, you will still have public water. It will not be taken away.”
The water line option the DEP is recommending would also likely require a township ordinance governing the rules for hooking up to the system.
Some utilities require that once a water passes in front of a home, it be hooked up to the system whether its well is polluted or not.
It would be up to the New Hanover Board of Supervisors to set those rules, Rebarchak said.
Residents would have to attend the public hearing on that ordinance to have input on how those rules worked, she said, adding that the DEP would recommend against those rules allowing polluted well water to be used outside, where it might get on garden vegetables and pose a health risk.
Colin Wade, DEP’s project officer for this project, told those in attendance that more monitoring wells were installed in March and April, and the DEP will continue to work to identify the size and concentration of the pollution.
Most of the investigation has focused on 334 Layfield Road, once the site of Swann Oil Company and then Good Oil Company.
Richard Staron, a geologist with the DEP, told the crowd “this contamination, we believe, is pretty old. We know of one release in the 70s and who knows how many weren’t reported.”
Judging by what the monitoring wells have shown so far, “it’s unlikely you’ll see (groundwater pollution) increase toward Swamp Creek,” Staron said.
Some speakers questioned how the plume of underground pollution might be altered by the fact that once the water line is put in, those household wells would no longer be drawing water from that aquifer.
They also questioned how the pollution plume might be affected by the operation of the Gibraltar Rock Quarry, which is proposed for property nearby.
One such speaker was Christopher Mullaney, an attorney for the Paradise Watchdogs citizens group, which is working to stop the quarry.
He said the plume of pollution has not yet been adequately identified and that DEP should have some flexibility about extending the public water line further should pollution be discovered in different wells several years from now.
Mullaney and property owner Anthony P. Mashintonio were the only speakers during the official “public comment” portion of the hearing.
“The Silvi Group and the quarry are, I feel, going to be good neighbors and if there would be a problem, they have a track record, they clean up any of their messes,” Mashintonio said. “This mess was around before the quarry was even brought up here.”
Rebarchak said the data being collected by the monitoring wells “is being shared with the people in our office who are working on (the quarry) project, so they will be aware of that.”
The water line project cannot move forward until after Jan. 18, when the official public comment period ends.
Written comments on the DEP’s proposal to connect the affected homeowners to public water can be made to Colin R. Wade, Solid Waste Specialist, vPA Dept. of Environmental Protection, 2 E. Main St., Norristown, PA 19401.
Once that period ends, Rebarchak and Patel said they hope to move forward with construction as quickly as possible. “If we are blessed with another mild winter like last year, we could get started right away,” she said.
Patel said they hope to be finished within a year from the time they started investigating the pollution.
Follow Evan Brandt on Twitter @PottstownNews