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Gov. hears Liberty Hill concerns from town

After the exchange of several letters in recent months, representatives from the Town of Gilford sat down with Gov. John Lynch to discuss the ongoing situation on Liberty Hill.
/ Source: Citizen Online

After the exchange of several letters in recent months, representatives from the Town of Gilford sat down with Gov. John Lynch to discuss the ongoing situation on Liberty Hill. State Sen. Kathy Sgambati arranged the meeting, after she read media reports of the town's frustration over the handling of the Liberty Hill contamination site.

To air these concerns and the town's desire for complete removal of the estimate 121,000 tons of coal tar impacted material, Town Administrator Evans Juris and Selectman Gus Benavides met with Lynch at the Statehouse Thursday afternoon.

"It went very well. We had a nice dialogue," said Juris.

Sgambati, along with Special Assistant for Policy Kate Peters, were also present at the meeting.

"He has made us no promises, but he was going to set up a meeting with NHDES," said Benavides.

Juris said that Lynch did pledge to review the entire case with his staff and give the situation serious attention.

At the meeting both Juris and Benavides tried to impress upon the governor the overwhelming desire of the town, Liberty Hill residents, and taxpayers of Gilford to have the site completely clean up.

In the past, NHDES Project Manager Mike McCluskey admitted the only way to have a completely clean sight would be to remove all the contaminated material from the ground, whether that be the estimate 121,000 ton figure or more.

This prompted Lynch to ask whether or not anyone in town was in favor of any other option, other than compete removal.

"(I told the Gov.) in every public hearing I have been to I haven't heard one person say leave some of that stuff in there," said Benavides.

When the line of questioning from the governor turned toward who and how much affected, this prompted Benavides and Juris tell Lynch what Hill residents are facing in light of this contamination that dates back over the better part of the last six decades.

Benavides explained that toxic coal tar contamination not only affected those people who used to live in homes on those four house lots, but everyone on Liberty Hill Road, downstream from there and all living within close to the site.

"These people can't get out of their homes," Benavides said.

Outside of the property value issue, Juris and Benavides spent a good portion of the hour long meeting to talk about the cancer concerns and the studies the state has performed.

Benavides pointed out that from the information that the town has been able to gather regarding cancer case afflicting Hill residents.

"This is affecting people in a tremendous way," said Benavides.

Benavides said does not agree with the state's findings.

Environmental epidemiologist John Colby with the NHDES, who performed the "cancer cluster" studies concerning Liberty Hill, stated after he completed the most recent study that in fact it is possible that less than the statistically expected amount of individuals could have been exposed to coal tar, developed cancer, and it would never show up in his study.

Additionally, the data used to perform the studies only dates back to 1986, when the New Hampshire Cancer Registry was established, and patient residence at the time of diagnosis is only taken into consideration with the Registry.

In addition to their concern over the accuracy of cancer studies performed, the Juris and Benavides also took the opportunity to express their concern and overwhelming dissatisfaction with how the NHDES has handled the Liberty Hill situation so far.

As Benavides explained, the town nor it's residents feel they have hand anything they say taken into consideration.

"They claim they have heard us loud and clear, they say they will have a plan, but it seems they keep giving KeySpan more and more time to come up with other alternatives," said Benavides.

"I have serious questions," added Benavides, expressing his deep distress over the fact that NHDES has seemed to take everything KeySpan's hired site investigator GEI Consultants on face value.

NHDES' McCluskey did confirm that out of all the testing and site investigation that has been performed by GEI, none of the findings offered by KeySpan's contracted consultants have been verified by NHDES testing.

Benavides said that concerns him, "because we are taking the word of a company hired to represent KeySpan." He added while GEI's findings may be right on, they still should be verified with state performed testing.

Both Juris and Benavides said they felt somewhat better knowing that the Gov. will be taking a first hand look, and has this issue on his radar.

"That is why I have been so emphatic that we needed to reach out to Governor Lynch," said Benavides.

Lynch's Press Secretary Colin Manning stated that the Liberty Hill matter is a very serious issue that the governor intends on working with NHDES to resolve.