The Village Board on Monday postponed its vote on a $1.04 million settlement offer from Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International, the two companies blamed for contaminating the village water supply with PFOA.
The motion to table was approved, 6-1, by village officials, with only Mayor David Borge voting against it. Borge argued that without the settlement money the village is facing "real financial issues."
"Someone is going to give us a check for $1 million, that is not going away," he said after the vote. "There are 1,900 people in this community that pay taxes. They were not all here tonight. ... We have a responsibility to look out for everyone in the village, both present and in the future, and that's what we're trying to do."
The settlement covers the costs of village expenses for engineering, water sampling, and legal and public relations advice since the contamination was first discovered in 2014, costs which Borge said totals $850,000. But it limits the village's ability to bring future claims against the companies — a provision that prompted vehement opposition from community members and environmental advocates, including Judith Enck, a former administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Enck attended the Monday meeting, criticizing the corporations' proposal and urging the board to reject it.
"This is a really good deal for St. Gobain and a really good deal for Honeywell, but this not the quality document you should be signing on behalf of the residents of Hoosick Falls," she said.
Village officials said the agreement would only limit their ability to sue over contamination of three existing wells that have already been fitted with filtration systems. The agreement was revised, they say, to retain village rights to pursue claims associated with new wells, alternative sources of water, extensions or additions to the current municipal water supply system, contaminants other than PFOA, and contamination beyond the water supply, like the village landfill.
Monday's meeting drew a crowd of about 150 residents, with more than a dozen speaking out against the agreement and urging board members to vote against the proposal from the corporations. The vote was set for last week, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute due to one of the members having a family emergency.
Desiray Rice, a new resident of the village, said she moved out of the city, wanting to live the rest of her life in Hoosick Falls.
"I don't want to be mad at you anymore," she said to village officials Monday. "I want to be mad at Saint-Gobain, I want to be mad at Honeywell, not you guys."
Unopposed village mayoral candidate Rob Allen said the community feels "betrayed, ignored and taken advantage of," and called for elected officials to support residents by voting against the agreement.
"More than anything (we need) someone who is in control to stand up and say we will protect you," he said. "That we have your best interests in mind. I got your back. This agreement does not have our back."
A representative from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's office also spoke against the agreement, offering Gillibrand's assistance to village officials.
"I'm extremely pleased the Village Board tabled the inadequate proposal from Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International and am grateful for the advocacy of the residents of Hoosick Falls tonight," Gillibrand said in a statement. "Democracy is at its best when citizens are engaged and have an active stake in their future. I stand ready to help the community in any way I can."
Borge said he hopes Gillibrand can help the village financially. The board took action Monday to borrow the money necessary for the expenses related to contamination, which Borge said could lead to tax increases. Borge, who will vacate his seat March 31, said with a wink that it'll be up to the new administration to make a decision on the agreement.
Resident Brian Bushner, who is running unopposed for Deputy Mayor Ric DiDonato's trustee seat next month, said both he and Allen "wanted to inherit this problem," and pointed to options when it comes to the village's finances, such as taking Gillibrand up on her offer to assist.
"We have a lot of resources that we haven't tapped into," he said. "People here deserve better. We deserve to have our bills paid, but we also deserve not to give up our future."
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