Two Ohio attorneys who led groundbreaking court cases involving the toxic chemical PFOA said Hoosick Falls' officials may be misleading the public into thinking they reviewed or endorsed a proposed settlement between the village and two companies blamed for polluting the community's water supply.
Hoosick Falls Deputy Mayor Ric DiDonato, in a Facebook post attributed to him this week, said the village's "legal team" spoke with the two Cincinnati attorneys, D. David Altman and Robert F. Bilott, "and many other legal experts to get their opinions on the development of this agreement throughout the process."
But Altman and Bilott both said the deputy mayor's claims are false.
In an email earlier this week to David Engel, an attorney for a grassroots group, Healthy Hoosick Water, Altman denied weighing in on the agreement, which the village board is scheduled to vote on Monday.
Altman said he was contacted by Hoosick Falls residents "who tell me that some officials and others are saying or implying that I have reviewed and voiced support (and/or approval) of a possible PFOA settlement involving the village. I have done no such thing. Anyone claiming this or implying it is either misinformed or engaging in deceptive conduct."
Altman is widely known for negotiating a confidential settlement with DuPont corporation on behalf of a privately owned water system, the Little Hocking Water Association, that was polluted with PFOA from DuPont's Washington Works plant just across the Ohio river from the association's well fields.
"When I was called by private counsel for the village in mid-January, I refused to even review the settlement," Altman said in the email to Engel.
Bilott is a lead attorney on a separate class-action lawsuit that was settled recently when DuPont agreed to pay more than $670 million to more than 3,500 people who were injured — including contracting serious diseases such as cancer — from their exposure to PFOA in the Ohio Valley.
Bilott told Engel that he has "not reviewed the revised Hoosick (Falls) settlement and certainly have not approved it or expressed any opinion on it to anyone in any way. Any representations being made that I have reviewed and commented upon or 'approved' any part of the agreement in any way are simply false."
The $1.04 million proposed agreement is the result of negotiations between the village and two companies — Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International — that have operated a manufacturing plant blamed for polluting the village's well fields.
Last month the Times Union contacted Thomas Ulasewicz, a Glens Falls attorney who has handled the negotiations for the village, because of a statement posted on the village's website defending the agreement that also said the village's attorneys "conferred with several private and public sector attorneys with experience in environmental and land use laws, as well as tort litigation, including attorneys involved in litigation related to remedial sites in the Ohio Valley."
Ulasewicz declined to identify the Ohio attorneys he consulted and would only say that his law firm "spoke to a number of attorneys about the agreement." He added: "We did not inform these individuals that the discussions would be made public, so I do not feel comfortable identifying them or disclosing details."
Mayor David Borge and DiDonato, both of whom said they will not seek re-election next month, could not be reached late Friday. Borge said earlier this week the "board and village attorneys worked very hard with the companies on this unprecedented agreement and we appreciate their effort to work with us and resolve outstanding issues,"
Engel has asked the village for an explanation of DiDonato's statement.
"The community has a right to know what's going on and whether the village board intends to listen to them, or whether it's the intention of the village board to stonewall its own residents."
Village officials said the settlement would cover the costs of the small community's expenses for engineering, water sampling, and legal and public relations advice since the contamination was discovered in 2014.
But residents and others have urged the village board to reject the agreement because it includes a provision that the village would give up its ability to recover future unforeseen damages related to the pollution of its well fields.
The new agreement, which will go before the village board at a special meeting Monday, was reworked after earlier concerns from residents. The latest draft increased the settlement amount from $850,000 and added language stating the village will not be prohibited from bringing future claims related to new wells, alternative water sources, additions to the current water system that may be needed, contamination associated with pollutants other than PFOA or damages for diminished property values.
Judith Enck, who recently stepped down as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 2, which includes New York, wrote a letter to Borge Wednesday urging the village not to adopt the agreement and calling it "an illustration of two experienced companies taking advantage of a small community."
Enck, who is from Rensselaer County, characterized the draft agreement as "deeply flawed" and the product of negotiations with two companies "very experienced in negotiating pollution settlements."
PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, was used in manufacturing in the village for decades. Since 1956 at least five companies — including Saint-Gobain and a predecessor corporation of Honeywell called Allied Signal — owned and operated a McCaffrey Street plant that is a focus of the water pollution.
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