Public expresses frustration at AkzoNobel forum

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation held an open forum on Wednesday Nov. 6 in Newton Hall to discuss AkzoNobel’s recent announcement of its plans to shut down its desalination plant at the former Retsof Salt Mine location. The meeting presented expert analyses on brine pumping tests and monitoring programs performed on the decommissioned mine. New York’s DEC Director of Public Affairs Michael Bopp led the meeting. Bopp attempted to address the community’s concerns through providing the reports of several experts on the AkzoNobel brine pumping.

Public apprehension over the sudden announced shutdown of the plant originated with fear that the brine would contaminate aquifers from which the community extracts water. Private discussions to determine a solution to this issue have been ongoing since December 2012.

Local geologists Sam Gowan, Richard Yager and Ray Yacuzzo of New York’s DEC gave presentations on the brine pumping tests to over 100 Livingston County residents present at the meeting. Each report concluded that continuing to pump brine from the collapsed mine through AkzoNobel would be unethical.

“If the pumping is stopped, the mine will remain stable,” Gowan said. “No sinkholes will form.”

He also said that the desalination plant is a waste of energy, and the environmental impacts include an increasing carbon footprint due to burning gas.

Yager said he agreed with these conclusions, but his findings differed from those of Gowan and his team. Gowan said there would be a continuation of brine exposure to the lowest aquifer, the basal aquifer, for thousands of years, while Yager said exposure would last for hundreds. They also differed in their analysis of the quality of the water in the basal aquifer; Gowan’s findings reported it to be of poor quality, while Yager believed it to be more usable.

The two geologists agreed, however, that it is in the best interest of Livingston County to halt the pumping of the brine. Yager explained that the cost for desalination, over $1 million per year, is not ideal for the future.

At the conclusion of these presentations, Gowan, Yager and Yacuzzo answered the public’s questions on their findings. They were met with a general sense of unease and even outrage. Bopp attempted to keep the questions within the range of topics the geologists presented.

“Why are we not informed of the negotiation information?” asked a member of the audience, referring to the private discussions taking place between AkzoNobel and the DEC. “Those are the answers that we were expecting tonight.”

“The negotiations are a separate topic,” Bopp said in response. “We will have a different meeting at a different time to talk about the statistics of those settlement discussions.”

Questions from the public continued to stray off topic, as people wondered who would be responsible if something happened after the desalination plant shut down, or whether fracking of waste water would occur.

Ultimately, these questions will only be answered after further negations between AkzoNobel and the DEC take place.