East Hardwick, News

East Hardwick Water Board Learns of $12,000 Fine from 2021

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by Cheryl Luther Michaels, Community Journalist

EAST HARDWICK – During 2023, the East Hardwick Fire District No. 1 (the water board for East Hardwick village) has been working closely with Vermont Rural Water, the Agency of Natural Resources, and the Town of Hardwick to meet mandates to improve water quality and the distribution system. Unexpectedly, the board discovered that there were additional unaddressed problems.

The current board, all of whose members were elected on August 9, 2022, or later, was not informed of problems resulting from a 2019 inspection until an email announcing a fine of $12,000 was received by the previous chair and forwarded to the current chair in November of 2023.

The email was from The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Enforcement & Litigation Section. It included a copy of a certified letter sent to the district’s post office box in October of 2021 which was addressed to Edward Keene, designated operator, Doug Casavant, president, and to the attention of Giovanna Zaccaria, secretary.

The letter stated that the East Hardwick Fire District No. 1 was in violation of its Public Community Water System Permit to Operate. These violations were noted in a sanitary inspection conducted on July 1, 2019, and the district was required to take corrective action and respond to the Agency of Natural Resources (the Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division) by November 25, 2021.

An opportunity to discuss this matter prior to the commencement of legal proceedings, particularly in an effort to reach settlement, was offered with a due date of Friday, March 25, 2022.

The current board is now in contact with the attorney and is trying to negotiate a settlement.

When David O’Brien, the current board chair, was asked for a comment he noted that “We don’t know why this was not addressed between 2019 and 2021. Most of the violations were an easy fix and in our experience the state is extremely forgiving of problems as long as we respond and are working on them.”

O’Brien stated that as soon as he received the notice he contacted the state to help identify the violations and what recourse the current board might have to mitigate such an expensive penalty.

On review of the correspondence from the attorney, it appears that the requirements were for the board to complete and submit documentation of certain tasks by various dates in November 2021.

These tasks included properly screening the openings associated with one of the springs and the reservoir with 24 wires-per-inch mesh screen and submitting photographic documentation; providing photographic documentation of the spring called Worthless and the interior and exterior condition of each spring; providing a detailed map of the location of each spring; having the reservoir tank inspected and supplying the division with the inspection report; completing and issuing a public notice (a sample of which was included in the violation) to all users of the water system and submitting a copy of the completed notice to the division.

O’Brien commented that “We have been given a chance to offer a counter proposal and the current board is working to formulate this proposal in an attempt to lessen the severity of the penalty.”

A list compiled by the current board, as part of their proposal for mitigation, noted that in the last 16 months the board has made major progress. Among other things, it wrote the organization’s first set of by-laws, expanded the board from three to five members, and reduced the rate of delinquent payments. It has improved communication with rate payers by establishing a web site and an email list and posting minutes of meetings within the time required by open meeting regulations.

The board has repaired two long-standing leaks on Church Street, obtained a grant and began an asset management study, obtained a grant and completed a lead-copper inventory, and is currently applying for a grant to conduct a leak detection survey.

It has created the first system map, utilizing GPS location data; planned for regular cleaning of the springs; established an inventory of parts commonly needed for repairs; retained a licensed operator; and contracted with an excavator for services when needed.

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