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State Senator says task force on Hoosick Falls water is better than hearings, constituents disagree

Posted by Karen DeWitt on

As part of the push to end the legislative session by Thursday, state lawmakers representing the PFOA contaminated village of Hoosick Falls want to extend the statute of limitations to bring lawsuits against polluters.

The bill would extend the current statute of limitations law, to allow a three year window between when New Yorkers find that their water has been contaminated with toxins linked to cancer and other disease, and a Superfund site has been declared, and when they can  file a lawsuit. The Senate sponsor, Senator Kathy Marchione, who represents Hoosick Falls, says it’s a top priority for her in the remaining days of the session

“There can’t be a time limit on justice for Hoosick Falls families,” Marchione said.

Michelle Baker, a Hoosick Falls resident, says she wants, at the very least, the right to hold potential polluters accountable.

“Our water has been contaminated for possibly decades,” Baker said. She says countless residents , and mothers like herself, who go to bed or wake up with a “tear in the their eye”.

“We are wondering, “is my child going to be sick next, am I going to be sick next’?” said Baker.

In the Assembly, 132 of 150 Assembly members back the bill.

But Senator Marchione admits that even though the bill was written in February, she has yet to speak to the Senate Leader, John Flanagan, about the measure. But she says she’s encouraged that the measure advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and plans to talk to the Senate Leader in the three days left in the legislative session.

Senator Marchione says she instead has been discussing  whether the Senate should hold hearings on how the Cuomo Administration handled the Hoosick Falls water crisis. There have been allegations that officials in Governor Cuomo’s health department knew of the PFOA contamination a year and a half before they warned residents. The Cuomo Administration acted early in 2016, after the federal EPA’s regional administrator in late 2015 told villagers not to drink their water. But Senator Marchione says while she’s not ruling out hearings, she’d rather work cooperatively instead right now.

“When you start pointing fingers and you start laying blame, it’s harder to work with people,” said Marchione. “I don’t want anyone stopping the progress that has been made in Hoosick”.

Marchione says creating a task force instead is a better idea, to decide how to handle cases of potential chemical contamination in drinking water in the future. Marchione admits, though, that not all of the meetings in a task force might be public. 

Baker, who as a Hoosick Falls resident is the Senator’s constituent, says she’d rather have public hearings.

“I do support the hearings, because then that way residents can be present,” said Baker. “We might have the opportunity to ask questions.  We can hear every answer that’s given.”

Baker says she thinks hearings could proceed without finger pointing.

But Baker says she’s grateful to Senator Marchione for trying to push the bill to expand the time to bring lawsuits against polluters.

Senator Marchione concedes she has similar questions about who knew what when on the PFOA contamination.

“And if that’s real, we need to know why that occurred,” said Marchione.

But she maintains that hearings would not be the right way to go at this time, and praised Governor Cuomo and his administration for acting quickly since the winter to offer residents water filters and blood tests.

The Assemblymen sponsor of the statute of limitations extension, John McDonald says he’d like to hold hearings,

“It’s something that I think has merit to it,” said McDonald.

He says he’s asked the Assembly Speaker for permission to do so. But Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says while he’s not ruling out holding hearings on the state’s handling of the Hoosick Falls  water crisis, he doesn’t  plan on holding them anytime soon.

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