The Town of Bethlehem has agreed to pay over $22,000 to Clough Harbor and Associates to help replace all of its mercury flow meters at the town’s Voorheesville water plant, following a consent order signed with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
At its Wednesday, Sept. 24, meeting, the Town Board unanimously agreed to allow Supervisor Jack Cunningham to sign a task order with Clough Harbor for the amount of $22,100 for engineering services and support for the meter replacement.
On Monday, Sept. 29, Cunningham told Spotlight Newspapers that Clough Harbor was coming in as a consultant on the replacement process but added the town has yet to bid on the actual meter replacements, so finalized costs are not known at this time.
The DEC fined the town $15,000 in June for mercury and petroleum reporting and handling violations that occurred over the past two years.
By signing a consent form, paying the $15,000 and remaining compliant, the town does not have to pay an additional $60,000 civil penalty to DEC, according to the state’s signed consent order, which stated the fine could have totaled $75,000.
Currently, the town is in full compliance with all of the stipulations of the consent order signed by the supervisor on June 6, according to DEC Region 4 spokesman Rick Georgeson.
`Bethlehem is in full compliance with the consent order and has given us everything we asked for,` Georgeson said.
Cunningham has repeatedly emphasized that absolutely no contaminates reached the town’s water supply ` not mercury or petroleum.
DEC officials agreed and said no mercury was found in the water supply, but said they fined the town for not properly reporting the mercury spills. The town also did not properly dispose of an old fuel-oil tank near the plant on town-owned property, according to DEC Region 4 Director Gene Kelly.
`DEC Region 4 law enforcement staff worked diligently in following leads, interviewing witnesses and compiling the facts of this case,` Kelly said in a release following the initial investigation. `The town recognized the continued risk posed by the mercury gauges and switches at the plant and agreed to replace all of them at a cost of $258,000 over the next year.`
Cunningham said the state’s estimated replacement cost was a `high-end estimate,` and that the replacements will likely cost less. The new flow meters will, however, be able to be used in the town’s eventual new water plant. The town’s Clapper Road plant in Selkirk already has updated meters, he said.
The DEC said the replacement estimates came from the town’s commissioner of public works, and Georgeson said they have documentation from the town’s attorney.
The supervisor also previously stated that the town was forced to sign the consent order because it couldn’t prove that less than a pound of mercury had spilled at the water plant, a statement he still stands by.
Further controversy arose surrounding the water plant spills in August when the town fired Albany County Sheriff’s deputy Gary Fish after he served 12 years as a part-time patrolman for the town’s water supply.
Fish alleged he was fired because he spoke out about the mercury spill at the town’s water plant, but town officials said he was fired because of repeated scheduling conflicts, but would not comment further because the incident is a `personnel matter.`
As a veteran law enforcement officer of 23 years, Fish said the town wasn’t fully disclosing incidents involving mercury and other problems at Bethlehem’s water treatment plant located in the town of New Scotland. He was hired by the town in 1996 to patrol the restricted reservoir.
Fish claimed his termination has nothing to do with scheduling and is the result of his talking to Town Attorney James Potter after a meeting about what he called inaccuracies in the report given to the public by Public Works Commissioner Josh Cansler in February regarding mercury spills at the water plant.
Both Potter and Cunningham said Fish was not fired because of talking to anyone about the matter, but neither could elaborate because it was a `personnel matter.`
Fish said more mercury was released inside of the water plant than what was reported and that workers were constantly put at risk by `having to track through mercury for two years.`
The town is currently on schedule and in compliance with its replacement of the mercury flow meter, according to the DEC.