Water experts differ on plan’s threat

COPAKE—Two water experts have weighed in on a controversial proposal to build a new gas station at the northwest corner of State Route 23, County Route 7 and Craryville Road intersection in the Craryville hamlet.

Paul A. Rubin, a hydrologist/hydrogeologist, hired by Save Craryville, opponents of the gas station plan, said the proposed site sits above an aquifer making it “ill-suited” for the proposed use. Contaminants—chemical and septic—generated by a gas station there have the potential to contaminate groundwater for miles around, he said.

Jean M. Patota, PG, a hydrogeologist hired by GRJH, the gas station applicant, said that with mitigation measures such as regulatory provisions, engineering controls and operating practices in place to detect and minimize spills, the potential impacts to ground water and wetlands would not represent a significant threat.

Delivering his report at the Copake Planning Board’s April 4 meeting, Mr. Rubin, with HydroQuest in Tivoli, displayed a brightly-colored map of the network of waterways and stream drainage routes under and around the proposed gas station site.

He said the board should not view the project in isolation, but look at “the whole picture,” including impacts that do not end at the property boundaries. The site sits directly above a high-permeability sand and gravel aquifer that drains via stream into a 100-acre wetland, which then drains into the Taghkanic Creek.

The aquifer is an important recharge area that provides high-quality groundwater to downgradient fractured bedrock aquifers used by local homeowners, as well as essential base flow to wetlands and creeks, according to the water expert.

In a follow-up letter to the Planning Board, Mr. Rubin said, “hydrocarbons and septic contaminants, including within runoff… will degrade the underlying aquifer. The addition of sewage to an aquatic system can, among other adverse impacts, deoxygenate the water leading to fish kills, species mortality, and harmful algal blooms.”

He recommended that site plan approval be denied due to the multiple factors reflecting the sensitivity of the project site.

Ms. Patota, who accompanied GRJH President Alicia Metz, spoke at an April 13 special workshop meeting of the Planning Board.

By way of introducing herself, Ms. Patota said she is a licensed professional geologist in New York State with a specialty of hydrogeology. She has over 33 years of experience starting in the areas of hazardous waste, water supply, environmental assessments and impact analysis. For the past 20 to 25 years she has concentrated on petroleum spills, regulatory compliance in the environmental field, and groundwater contamination. She has also been directly responsible for remediating and investigating hundreds of spills, according to the meeting minutes.

Since she visited the site but did not conduct an analysis of specific conditions, she proceeded on the assumption that there is an aquifer in this area. Addressing concerns about potential contamination from surface water running onto and off the property, and direct spills infiltrating the ground and impacting wetlands and a potential aquifer, she said that risks can be reduced and noted the ways this can be done.

In a follow-up letter to the Planning Board, Ms. Patota said that state and federal laws highly-regulate the transportation, storage, handling and sale of petroleum. “Regulations stipulate tank registrations and outline the requirements for practices and equipment to handle, store, monitor and manage inventory, prevent and detect spills, and provide for training and record-keeping.

“The requirements include containment and leak monitoring throughout the underground tank and piping systems, overfill prevention, shut off devices, monitoring equipment and testing, and verifying inventory. Petroleum facilities are subject to scheduled and unscheduled compliance inspections,” she wrote.

While accidental surface spills do occur despite advances and training, she wrote, they are “readily identified and controlled by emergency responses and cleanups.”

The risk of an “undetected catastrophic release to the environment from newly-installed petroleum equipment that meets current standards” in her opinion “is very low.”

Ms. Patota went on to note that “unlike some man-made chemicals that are difficult to remediate… volatile compounds in gasoline and diesel represent the most soluble and mobile components.

“Petroleum ‘volatiles’ and other hydrocarbons are susceptible to multiple natural degradation processes including physical, chemical, and biological processes that occur at the surface, within the soil column, and within ground water.” She said, petroleum degradation acceleration methods are established for use when needed and additionally naturally exist in soil and ground water.

The two-hour Saturday morning meeting at which Ms. Patota spoke, was packed with details about potential spill and leak scenarios and the measures in place to protect against them including nature’s own clean-up arsenal and the construction features of residential wells and fuel storage tanks and the concrete pad on which the gas station pumps would sit.

Planning Board Chairman Bob Haight told The Columbia Paper this week that a consultant/engineer to assist the Planning Board in its review of the project at the applicant’s expense has not yet been hired due to paperwork delays.

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