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Wainscott Critic vs. Councilwoman

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 08:00

An at-times furious argument ran throughout the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee's meeting Saturday as a resident of the hamlet repeatedly accused the East Hampton Town Board of misleading the State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Suffolk County Health Department as to firefighting foam stored at East Hampton Airport. Storage and use of the foam is blamed for contaminated drinking water wells in the hamlet and is the subject of multiple lawsuits brought by the town. 

The three-hour virtual meeting also saw Councilman Jeff Bragman criticize Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, whom he will challenge on June 22 in a Democratic primary. 

Simon Kinsella, a vocal critic of the town board with respect to both the contamination, discovered in 2017, and the proposed South Fork Wind farm, linked the two issues in a broad attack on Mr. Van Scoyoc and his colleagues. At one point he angrily told Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the committee's liaison to the town board, that she should resign. 

He accused the town of ignoring a 2016 D.E.C. survey regarding the perfluorinated chemicals, collectively known as PFAS; taking almost nine months to complete it, and completing it inaccurately. The hazardous chemicals are found in a variety of products, including aqueous film-forming foam, which is used to fight fires involving jet fuel and was stored and used at East Hampton Airport, which is located in Wainscott. 

Based on detections of PFAS, 47 of 570 acres at the airport were added to the D.E.C.'s Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites, commonly called Superfund sites. The hazardous chemicals were also discovered to have contaminated private wells throughout Wainscott in 2017, and the town provided free bottled water to residents in the area of concern and moved to make "point-of-entry treatment systems" (POETs) available. Nine miles of water mains were later installed so those affected could connect to public water. 

Had the town acted promptly and completed the survey accurately, Mr. Kinsella charged, the D.E.C. "would have had the opportunity to test the airport for contamination and we would have been able to have drinking water over a year earlier than we did." Instead, he said, Wainscott residents -- "and we're talking about hundreds -- were drinking contaminated water unnecessarily for more than a year because the town failed to comply with their obligations to report the contamination." 

Accusing the town board of "cover-up and obstruction," he asked the committee, as an advisory board, to advise it to "correct the false information." 

The South Fork Wind farm's developers plan to land its export cable at Beach Lane in Wainscott, burying it on a path to a Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton. "If anyone tells me the wind farm construction corridor is uncontaminated, I simply don't believe them," Mr. Kinsella said. "Disturbingly, the town has never required South Fork Wind to test the construction corridor, and it should have, because South Fork Wind are going to be excavating soil down to or approaching the water table," he said, as well as transporting and storing the soil in a residential neighborhood. 

"It's really hard to speak to this," an annoyed Ms. Overby responded. "Conflation and accusations, dressed in extremes that are meant to frighten, don't make any of this true. The town will respond seriously." Mr. Kinsella asked for examples. "Not at this time," she retorted. 

Nicholas Rigano, an attorney representing East Hampton Town in the Superfund process and litigation the town has commenced against dozens of parties including East Hampton Village and its liability insurance company, was "a little bit taken aback by Mr. Kinsella's presentation." The town, he said, has acted "in the most responsible manner that my firm has ever seen a municipality act with respect to drinking water contamination, period." The town has "acted immediately, swiftly, and every governmental body has stated what the town has done is both necessary and appropriate, and timely," he added. 

The town did not buy, use, or store AFFF, Mr. Rigano said. Rather, it was the East Hampton Fire Department, which services the airport and has a substation adjacent to it on Industrial Road. The fire department is an East Hampton Village agency. 

The town did receive the survey in 2016, Mr. Rigano agreed. "The town didn't complete it immediately, not because they were covering anything up; it didn't complete it because they didn't have the information." The town brought the survey to the fire department, he said, and truthfully stated to the D.E.C. in an email that "we don't have firefighting foam." The email went on to say that the village has a foam truck and that the survey had been forwarded to the village fire chief. The town "provided the form to the D.E.C. knowing the fire department was going to fill out its own form. That's exactly what happened." 

The area around the airport would have been investigated in any event, the lawyer said, because airports and military bases throughout the country are being investigated for PFAS contamination. "Just because a form was submitted or not doesn't mean it wouldn't have been investigated." 

Mr. Bragman said that when he urged the board to facilitate installation of POETs for residents who wanted them, there was "some serious pushback from the supervisor. But eventually I was able to persuade the town board to declare a state of emergency, and make these POETs available."

Mr. Kinsella later said that Mr. Bragman had acted appropriately throughout the emergency. Ms. Overby, however, disputed Mr. Bragman's recollection. "I do not agree that there was pushback," she said. "I agree there were questions to be answered, due diligence to be performed." 

Mr. Bragman persisted. "I was told by the supervisor that it was illegal to pay for these POET systems," he said. "That was the controversy. . . . Eventually, I produced legal support for the idea, which I think is fairly commonsense." Providing in-home filtration to residents drinking contaminated water does not constitute a gift, he said. "You're providing a benefit to the entire community."

When Mr. Kinsella returned to the wind farm's export cable, Ms. Overby said there was "a construction plan that will be presented so that people can understand what is going to happen, and fearmongering ahead of this is just unacceptable behavior. . . . I can't tell you how many times Si has said there's false representation. . . . It is unfathomable that we have to sit and listen to this." 

"Your accusation that it is fearmongering to look after our health, that is outrageous," an agitated Mr. Kinsella replied. "For a town board member to accuse us of fearmongering when we're just concerning ourselves with our health, you should resign!" 

"Continuing to beat this drum that we did not care about our constituents, it's just hard to take, Si, and it's untrue," Ms. Overby shot back. "There is no evidence, and we are doing what we need to do to make sure that everyone is safe as can be under the circumstances."

But Carolyn Logan Gluck, the committee's chairwoman, said that "there remains very serious concern about water and possibly soil contamination, not just what's being done about it but the speed with which it's being addressed." She asked that the town board respond to Mr. Kinsella's presentation and to other questions raised by those in attendance. "My sense is, people are worried," she said, "and I think having more knowledge is extremely helpful in terms of alleviating those worries."


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