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Orleans residents demand safe drinking water

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LAFARGEVILLE — Residents came out Thursday night to demand the town of Orleans provide safe drinking water and an answer as to why the state isn’t cleaning up groundwater contamination from salt storage barns.

“Lead, iron, magnesium, nitrates ... ” Fourth Coast Inc. owner and engineer Robert J. Campany said, citing a summary of tests performed on 49 private wells tested recently for harmful agents. “There’s not a single line that doesn’t have one.”

The owner of the Thousand Islands Winery in town said the problem of unhealthy water is so bad that he plans to relocate his winery within three months. Stephen J. Conaway said the state has discontinued providing him potable water, and now he must pay $800 a week for it.

Orleans town attorney James A. Burrows said the statute of limitations for residents to sue the state for damages has expired. Residents contend that improper maintenance of a state Department of Transportation salt barn on Route 12 in Fishers Landing, which was relocated from Carnegie Bay in 2002, is to blame for the contamination of their wells.

Now, the town must find a solution. About 50 residents attended the public forum at LaFargeville Central School to voice concerns and learn what will happen next.

“I want to know if there is anyone who hasn’t had problems,” resident Debbie Schafer said.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said she thinks it’s terrible that the state will not take responsibility for the contamination. She said that if a private company had caused damage to someone’s well, the state would shut it down and mandate cleanup.

A potential solution will be costly. A proposed water district to serve homes from Fishers Landing to the Clayton line would cost about $11 million. Each household would have to contribute $800 a year for the project. Mr. Campany, the engineer, estimated the town could borrow $4 million to $5 million, leaving $6 million to $7 million to be raised through grants.

Mr. Campany said the town has three lending options: it can apply through the state Department of Transportation, the state Environmental Facilities Corp. or the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

Mrs. Russell announced, meanwhile, that $500,000 has been secured for the project.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, who also attended the forum, said, “It doesn’t matter how many conversations it takes; unless we work together, we’re not going to get anything done.”

Mr. Conaway, the Thousand Islands Winery owner, said that after being exposed to harmful chemicals from his well water, his family is getting sick.

“Shame on us; we’ve known about this contamination for 30 years,” he said.

Mr. Conaway, who filed a formal complaint in 2003 and later sued the DOT over the contamination, said his lawsuit was determined to be “time barred” and has been dropped.

He said the state has stopped providing him water for his home and for his crops, which means that to maintain the quality of his grapes he has to pay $800 a week for potable water to be brought to the vineyard.

“That is $800 I can’t afford to pay every week for water,” Mr. Conaway said. He said in three months’ time he plans to move his family and his business to a place with safe water. “My daughter has never bathed in clean, uncontaminated water, and she has tumors all on her hands.”

The next step is to secure the funding for a water district and apply for a referendum, Town Supervisor Kevin C. Rarick said.

“We have a huge, long project ahead of us,” he said.

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