WILMINGTON, MA — At their meeting on Monday night, the Wilmington Board of Selectmen received an update on the town’s recent steps to explore the possibility of running a town water line up to Cook Avenue, whose residents are without public water, must drink bottled water, and rely on contaminated well water for other tasks, due to their proximity to the Olin Chemical Superfund Site.
“For many nears now, Town officials have had serious concerns about the continued use of well water by residents who reside on Cook Avenue,” Town Manager Jeff Hull recently wrote in a letter to the EPA, which was shared with the Selectmen at their meeting. “The concentration of NDMA detected in the samples have apparently not reached the level of remained at the concentration levels at which EPA believes would necessitate a connection to the public water supply. However, the exposure pathway of inhalation which would include exposure via showering with water containing NDMA bolsters the justification to require that Olin Chemical fund the connection of these homes to the public water supply.”
Hull, with the backing of the Board of Selectmen, has asked EPA to support the town’s position on bringing a water line to Cook Avenue and requiring Olin pay for the expenses.
“Town officials once again strongly encourage EPA to reconsider its position on connecting residents of Cook Avenue to Wilmington’s water supply,” wrote Hull. “Since the reasons for such a connection are solely due to the contaminants from the Olin Chemical Superfund site, the Olin Corporation and other potentially responsible parties must be required to take full responsibility for covering the cost to make such a connection to these homes.”
Town Engineer Paul Alunni has come up with a preliminary cost estimate of $430,000 to install the proposed water main to Cook Avenue and its appurtenances. Alunni pointed out that, due to the proximity of the Olin Chemical Superfund site, there may be below-the-surface unforeseen conditions that could impact the final cost estimate of the project.
Alunni noted that seven homes would be serviced by the water line — the five on Cook Avenue and the two on Burnham Street, which is a short private way off of Cook Avenue. These streets are located off of Main Street in the southern section of town, adjacent to the Wilmington/Woburn line.
“If [the EPA] can’t tell us [their decision on Cook Ave.] by mid-September, I don’t have an issue if the board takes a motion to spend town funds to take care of those poor folks on Cook Avenue and run the water to them. And we put an attachment on Olin’s property,” said Selectman Mike McCoy. “Let’s see what happens over the next 90-120 days. But come September, that’s probably what we should end up doing… We have the money in free cash…. I’d love to see all of us work together. If EPA isn’t doing something by mid-September, then we should take action and have Town Counsel put an attachment on Olin.”
Selectman Chair Greg Bendel agreed with McCoy and said EPA Section Chief Lynne Jennings is committed to coming back in front of the Selectmen in September orOctober, likely with an interim plan that will include recommendations on the Cook Avenue situation.
“I am cautiously optimistic that EPA will do what’s right. It shouldn’t cost our taxpayers to fix something that wasn’t the town’s fault,” said Selectman Jonathan Eaton. “[If EPA fails to act], I agree we should take some action.”
Selectman Kevin Caira suggested the town should send a follow-up letter to the EPA, telling them the town expects to receive a visit from the EPA in the fall.
Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony cautioned her colleagues about moving forward on water line project for Cook Avenue without a response from EPA or guidance from the town’s environmental consultants.
“My biggest concern is we have pending litigation. The proposed plan includes excavation at points. If we do this without getting Olin on the hook prior, we might be creating a more difficult situation that where then going to be more liable for,” said O’Mahony. “I hate that we have residents that need bottled water. I hate that. And I apologize for and am embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t know this was an issue until I got on this board… This has a sense of urgency to it. My fear is if we do things shooting from the hip, I just don’t want to see that somehow create a situation where Olin can say we created it. They should be on the hook for it 100%.”
“As far as Cook Ave goes, I hope the ball doesn’t get dropped on that and that we move forward, somehow, someway,” added local environmental activist and WERC Vice President Suzanne Sullivan. “I think $450,000 is something we can part with to get water up there and then request that Olin fund it.”
Sullivan also cautioned the board not to allow EPA to use Cook Avenue as leverage when negotiating with Olin Chemical on other matters.
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