Officials seek answers, fix in Vernon Center


January 14, 2020
In The News

VERNON CENTER — The water in Vernon Center is contaminated, says Rep. Anthony J. Brindisi, who is seeking answers from the state Department of Transportation.

For years, the residents of Vernon Center have dealt with undrinkable well water, but it’s only gotten worse in recent years, officials say, who gathered with Brindisi for a press conference demanding answers and action from New York state.

Brindisi held the press conference at a former New York DOT site that stored road salt for many years during the winter months.

Just last year, Brindisi visited with local residents and town officials to hear what they had to say about their water. “Stories of hard, salty, drinking water,” he said. “Stories of low-quality water wearing on faucets, pipes, and hurting families in this area.”

Engineering firm Barton and Loguidice Engineers tested water in the Vernon Center area and found contaminated wells on 11 different properties.

“The results are shocking,” Brindisi said.

Normal sodium levels are supposed to be around 0 to 60 milligrams per liter. Samples came back ranging from 300 to 3,800 milligrams per liter or up to 60 times the normal level. Normal chloride levels are supposed to be around 0 to 250 milligrams per liter. Samples came back between 100 and 6,600 milligrams per liter or up to 26 times the normal level. And it’s not just sodium and chloride contaminating the water.

“That road salt storage facility could be responsible for the contamination of water in this community,” Brindisi said. “Unfortunately, this community is left without answers.”

Brindisi said it’s widely known that road salt can seep into the drinking water through the ground and get into the water supply.

The New York State Department of Transportation has been providing bottled water to those in affected areas.

“New York state has been providing these residents with bottled water,” Brindisi said. “Perhaps, a tacit acknowledgment on their part that they are responsible for the contaminated water here. But the DOT is not providing answers. When the community is being provided bottled water but no answers, that’s a failure of transparency and a failure of basic government.”

In his letter, Brindisi is demanding the New York DOT answers as to why they’re providing drinking water to the residents of Vernon Center, whether or not they’ve examined the potential impact of its former salt storage site and whether New York state has tested the drinking water in the area and if they’d be willing to share the results with the town of Vernon.

“These are simple questions that deserve real, honest answers,” Brindisi said.

Flanked by town of Vernon elected officials, Brindisi said he was fighting to hold New York state accountable and will be sending a letter to New York DOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez, demanding answers.

After the meeting, Vernon Center resident David Lenhart spoke with the Sentinel and outlined what he has been going through for years as a homeowner in Vernon Center.

“I built my house 27 years ago and the water was usable at first,” Lenhart said. “It’s been progressively going downhill since then. We use the water mainly for laundry and bathing, but it’s not suitable for consumption. If our water is untreated by the water softener, you can smell the iron in it and it’s yellow. After it’s treated, it’s only good for bathing and washing because it’s got so much salt in it.”

Lenhart said as time goes on, it’s only gotten worse and getting worse faster. Lenhart has lost multiple faucets to the water, each one lasting around two to three years. He hasn’t had any problems with his septic system, but Lenhart has heard residents on Youngs Road in Vernon Center have worse water than he does.

“I’ve heard they’ve got more odor problems and the quality is worse,” Lenhart said. “And they’ve talked about septic tanks collapsing because the salt ate away on the concrete.”

Vernon Councilor John Peters said only sodium and chloride were tested at the moment but said water samples are going to Verona Labs for another battery of tests.

At the press conference, Town of Vernon Supervisor Randy Watson said Vernon has been fighting this problem for over 10 years and hopes that with help of the congressman, Oneida County Legislator Keith Schiebel and other state officials, something can be done.

“We’ve got people who live in these homes that can’t drink their water, they can’t bathe in it and they can’t wash their clothes in it,” Watson said. “Can you imagine going home, knowing you have to go out and do your laundry even though you’re a homeowner and have lived here for years?”

The water is so toxic, Watson said, it eats through copper pipes and damages cement walls.

This has been a problem for years, Schiebel added, saying the inability to get clean water threatens their daily life activities of local residents

There has been proposed a public water project, servicing 213 households and small businesses in the area. The project would provide six miles of eight-inch water main, a water storage tank and a booster pump station. Water would be supplied to the Vernon Center area by the town of Vernon via an inter-municipal agreement.

The project is estimated to cost around $8.67 million and the town of Vernon is pursuing supplemental grants and long term financing. Schiebel called on all government officials on all levels, including the state, to assist Vernon in funding their water project and ensure the future of the Vernon Center hamlet.

“The state is providing bottled water to a lot of homes, but the state has to stand up and help us,” Watson said. “We can’t afford to do this ourselves. This is a sizable project the town can’t undertake on our own.”

Schiebel said there is a plan in place and some grant applications have already been submitted. “We’re hopeful, especially with Congressman Brindisi bringing more attention to this,” he added.

“Clean, safe, and drinkable water should be a basic right for all Americans,” Brindisi said. “Unfortunately, many residents in Vernon Center have been dealing with contaminated water for years”