Large water rate hikes for Merrimack

MERRIMACK – In an effort to protect the community from hazardous PFAS chemicals, water rate increases valued at millions of dollars are reality for Merrimack residents and businesses.

“Citizens for Clean Water has been working on this project for three years and people called us hysterical fearmongers, but we kept at it,” New Hampshire Rep. Wendy Thomas, D-Merrimack, said.

“This is bad stuff and kids and pets are dying in Merrimack,” Thomas added.

The drive to treat PFAS (formally per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) by the passage of two warrant articles during the March 26 Merrimack Village District annual meeting March 26.

Information provided by Thomas states: “Merrimack voted to pass two warrant articles that will cost our town $14.5 million and which will increase water bills by 79 percent.”

More specifically, residents voted to approve Article 2, which appropriates $3.6 million to construct a water treatment system for MVD wells 7 and 8, They also approve Article 3, which appropriates $10.9 million to construct a water treatment system for MVD wells 2 and 3.

Proponents state these measures will reduce PFAS in the water and Article 3 will also reduce iron and manganese.

Article 2 passed by a vote count of 264 to 22, while 262 voters supported Article 3 compared to just 24 in opposition.

PFAS are chemicals made by humans found in variety of consumer products. Firefighters and military members use them in fire-suppressing foam. They can be found in water supplies near facilities that use PFAS and can cause a variety of health risks.

The warrant articles were petitioned for placement on the ballot. This means they weren’t introduced by town officials.

State Rep. Rosemarie Rung, D-Merrimack, wrote the petitions.

“It became clear last fall that the MVD commission wouldn’t submit the warrant articles themselves and a citizen should do it, so I drafted the articles, got 25 signatures and submitted them to the town clerk who certified them. There was a lot of discussion about the cost because these are big-ticket items that cost almost as much as building the Merrimack Middle School,” Rung said.

“But drinking water is very important, so I spearheaded the warrant articles so people could make the decision and I don’t know of any bonding issue that got this much support. It speaks volumes and sends strong messages beyond Merrimack.”

“Merrimack was a very red town, but Republicans were dropping the ball. Three of us were elected as state representatives and three from the group are MVD Commissioners,” Thomas added.

Thomas is integrating the issue into the 2020 presidential campaign, citing that U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y, recently spoke to group members.

“I’ve also been working on inviting presidential candidates to Merrimack to hold PFAS discussions for southern New Hampshire. So far Sen. Gillibrand has come and others have said they are scheduling visits,” Thomas added.

Don Provencher, a MVD Commissioner, said Article 2 will involve expanding an existing treatment plant, while Article 3 will require a new treatment plant.

“We’ll build a new plant for both wells and run a pipe to filter them. We will also treat iron and manganese at well 3 before we can put water through granular carbon filters,” he said.

Saint-Gobain, which is responsible for the PFAS contamination in Merrimack and paid much of the cleanup costs for the two wells near the plant that were closed after the contamination was discovered, is not responsible for the contamination at the four wells covered by the warrant articles.

Provencher said the PFAS levels in the wells motivated residents to take action.

“When the contaminant levels came to 70, our wells were not over the limits and the great thing is that people were able to make decisions for their own future and not have to wait until the regulators catch up.”

New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services officials set maximum containment levels (MCLs) for PFAS, but indicated they may lower the levels after reviewing scientific research.

Citizens for Clean Water estimates the work that will be done at the four wells will take about three years.