hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News May 2017



More Syrian refugees now expected in Rutland


At least seven more families fleeing the Syrian civil war are now expected to resettle in Rutland later this year, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to halt the flow of new Syrian refugees to the United States.

Rutland’s former mayor, Christopher Louras, volunteered the city more than a year ago as the new home for up to 30 families of Syrian refugees. But only two families had arrived by Jan. 27, when President Trump issued the first of his executive orders halting travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries. Louras and others had predicted then that, because the president’s order effectively halted the flow of refugees, it was unlikely any additional families would make it to Rutland.

Federal courts have blocked implementation of portions of Trump’s orders, however. And last month, the head of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, a nonprofit group that worked with Louras to develop the plan for relocating refugees to Rutland, said federal officials had advised her that seven addition families will be headed to the city in the coming months.
Amila Merdzanovic, the resettlement program’s executive director, told Vermont Public Radio that the seven families are all two-parent households with an average of three children. Although she was unsure exactly when they would arrive, Merdzanovic said she’d been advised that “the families that are in the pipeline are now assured.”

The refugee resettlement plan set off months of controversy in Rutland after Louras announced it last year, and in March the mayor lost his bid for a sixth two-year term. The new mayor, David Allaire, was strongly supported by Rutland First, a local group critical of the resettlement effort.
Allaire and other critics of the resettlement program had argued that Rutland could not support the number of refugees originally planned. But the new mayor told VPR last month that he thinks the city can handle the seven additional families now expected.

“We already have two families,” Allaire said. “I’ve met them, and everything so far seems to have worked out fine.”

In other news from around the region in April:


Hoosick Falls dumps law firm in PFOA case
Village officials in Hoosick Falls have fired a law firm that negotiated an unpopular proposal for settling legal claims over PFOA contamination in the local drinking water supply.
The Times Union of Albany reported that the village Board of Trustees voted in an emergency session April 24 to terminate its contract with the Glens Falls firm of FitzGerald Morris Baker Firth.
The law firm had negotiated a draft settlement agreement in which the two companies considered responsible for the contamination, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International, would pay $1.04 million to cover the village’s expenses for engineering, water sampling and legal and public relations expenses. That figure included more than $300,000 payable to FitzGerald Morris.

The proposed settlement sparked a public outcry when it was revealed earlier this year, especially because it would have barred the village from filing any future claims against the two companies over PFOA pollution. The village never signed the deal.

Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen, newly elected in March, told the Times Union last month that after reviewing invoices from FitzGerald Morris, he was “taken aback by the way things were handled.”

“We decided it’s time to take a new approach,” Allen said.
PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, was discovered in high concentrations in the village water supply in 2014. The chemical, which is classified as a likely carcinogen, was widely used in past decades in the manufacture of nonstick coatings such as Teflon and in a variety of other products. After its discovery in Hoosick Falls, PFOA contamination also was discovered in dozens of drinking water wells in other area communities near where industries once used the chemical, including North Bennington, Petersburgh and White Creek.

In Hoosick Falls, officials say a new filtration system installed last year has made the drinking water safe for the more than 4,000 local water customers. But state tests last year found that hundreds of people exposed to PFOA in northeastern Rensselaer County were carrying the substance in their blood at concentrations far above typical background levels.

In North Bennington, where tests found PFOA contamination in the private wells of about 100 homeowners near the former ChemFab plant, Vermont officials announced in late April that Saint-Gobain, which owns the defunct plant, has agreed to spend $800,000 for final design work on a plan to extend town water service to about half the affected properties. The municipal water supply in North Bennington is free of contamination.

The Bennington Banner reported that Saint-Gobain and state officials do not yet agree on the source of contamination at the remaining properties in North Bennington, with the company contending that a former municipal landfill could be the source of the PFOA in those wells.
And in Petersburgh, the Times Union reported that a state Supreme Court justice has refused to dismiss a class-action lawsuit against Taconic, a local plastics company believed to be the source of PFOA contamination in that town. A similar lawsuit on behalf of Hoosick Falls residents is pending in federal court.


Barrington voters back sanctuary resolution
Voters at Great Barrington’s annual town meeting overwhelmingly backed a resolution declaring the town a “safe and inclusive community” for all people regardless of immigration status.
The resolution unites the town with other communities around the state and nation that have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” for immigrants. The measure says Great Barrington will not enforce federal immigration law or “aid in the detention, transfer, transport or deportation of residents for civil immigration purposes.”

The Berkshire Edge online news site reported that although some of the 406 voters at the May 1 town meeting spoke against the resolution, many more spoke in favor, and it passed “by a show of hands so overwhelming that it did not require a count.”

Elsewhere in the region, the Common Council in Hudson, N.Y., backed a sanctuary city resolution by a 10-to-1 vote in late March. The resolution says the city’s police will not “stop, question, interrogate, investigate, arrest or detain an individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration or citizenship status.”

-- Compiled by Fred Daley