2006.03.03 – OFFICIALS BACK FOLLOW-UP TEST

By Shawn A. Hessinger, Tamaqua Bureau Chief, shessinger@republicanherald.com
The REPUBLICAN & Herald, © 2006

March 3, 2006

TAMAQUA — A second meeting to discuss follow-up testing of the Still Creek Reservoir will be held at the office of state Rep. David G. Argall, R-124, 10 a.m. March 10.

The 2.7-billion-gallon reservoir supplies 3,500 customers in the borough, Rush and West Penn townships.

“We’re just really fact finding at this point,” said Tamaqua Area Water Authority Chairman Brian Connely.

At a public meeting in Hometown on Jan. 18, Connely said the water authority was open to further suggestions after spending $3,000 to test the reservoir two years ago and was pledged support by local leaders including state Sen. James J. Rhoades, R-29.

“At the Jan. 18 meeting, Sen. Rhoades and Rep. Argall agreed to help the water authority with funding for a new study of the Still Creek Reservoir,” said Tamaqua borough Councilman Micah J. Gursky, a legislative aide to Argall.

On Jan. 21, Tamaqua Mayor Christian P. Morrison called for more extensive testing of the reservoir as well, after environmentalists and residents repeatedly expressed doubts over the results of the initial testing.

In June 2004, an environmental group reported that three people, including husband and wife Betty and Lester Kester living along Ben Titus Road in Rush Township, had all contracted a rare, blood-thickening cancer called polycythemia vera.

The announcement touched off alarm because of the close proximity of the former McAdoo Associates site where, between 1978 and 1979, an estimated 7,000 drums and six above-ground tanks contained volatile organic compounds, according to an Environmental Protection Agency Web site.

The reservoir borders Ben Titus Road where the Kesters reside and is also just over a mile from the McAdoo Associates site, where environmentalists say thousands of gallons of contaminants may have been poured into underground mine workings before authorities took action.

Morrison, a Democrat and chairman of the campaign committee of Democratic 124th legislative candidate William J. Mackey Jr., who will challenge Argall this fall, was accused of political motives by Argall and a Rhoades aide in suggesting the tests. However, an initial meeting between water authority members, representatives from Tamaqua and Rush Township and Dr. Peter J. Baddick, a West Penn Township physician and outspoken critic of an initial testing of the reservoir, was held Feb. 1. Gursky and Connely said the focus of the meetings is to gain insight into developing a more comprehensive testing procedure for the reservoir.

“Once we figure out what we need to do, then we can figure out how much it’s going to cost so we can go back to Dave and Sen. Rhoades with that,” Connely said.

Gursky said Baddick would be inviting two experts to the March 10 meeting to give local leaders input on what shape a comprehensive testing of the reservoir might take.

Baddick could not be reached immediately on Thursday to give more insight into the experts he would be inviting to the meeting, but Gursky said both were former employees of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

In December 2004, five samples, including a cat fish from the reservoir, three sediment samples and one sample of raw water, were tested by Benchmark Analytics, a Center Valley firm.

The results have been contested by critics including Baddick, who said the number of samples taken was not statistically significant based on the reservoir’s size.

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