I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Bernalillo halts $9 million arsenic treatment project over ‘public safety’ concerns
Bernalillo has suspended plans to construct a $9.2 million arsenic treatment system at two of the Town’s four wells, Mayor Jack Torres announced this week. Town engineers are now attempting to fix problems at new treatment facilities already installed at the two other wells, he said.
“In the interest of public safety, the Town has decided to take a step back and concentrate resources on correcting the deficiencies at the wells currently providing our drinking water,” Torres said. “It is premature to proceed with a system that is currently not consistently removing arsenic to an acceptable level.”
The decision means the Town will lose $3.28 million in federal stimulus funding, Town Clerk Ida Fierro confirmed Wednesday. The Town is in the process of terminating its contracts for the project, Fierro confirmed.
The multimillion-dollar arsenic filtration facilities already installed at the Town’s two active wells were built in 2007 and 2008, using equipment produced by Bernalillo-based ARS-USA. Town engineers had refused to recommend ARS’s new, aluminum-based arsenic treatment system, but former Town manager Stephen Jerge hired a second engineer — Ramesh Narasimhan — who did recommend the Town’s purchase the ARS system.
Bernalillo was the first municipality in the nation to adopt the ARS system for arsenic treatment in 2008.
But as first reported in The Independent, the systems failed to bring arsenic levels into compliance with federal drinking water standards, leading to two state Environment Department violation notices. The equipment also repeatedly dumped aluminum- and arsenic-containing sludge into residents’ tap water in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Arsenic occurs naturally in the Town’s ground water. Arsenic is a carcinogen, tied to lung and bladder cancer risk.
ARS officials said the problems were not the fault of their aluminum treatment system, which adds electrically charged aluminum into the water to bind to arsenic, but rather, were caused by downstream filters at the facilities, engineered by Narasimhan.
Despite problems with the treatment facilities, town councilors voted Feb. 1 to approve a new $9.2 million construction contract with Archer Western to install ARS equipment at two other, currently unused wells, to expand the growing Town’s future water supply.
Town officials were concerned that failing to approve the project would cause the Town to lose more than $3 million in federal stimulus money.
The two older wells, known as wells 1 and 2, have not been used since 1992 because of naturally high arsenic levels.
After speaking with Town Planning Director Maria Rinaldi at a special meeting Monday night, Town councilors agreed to halt the new construction projects, Town Clerk Ida Fierro confirmed Tuesday.
“The Town made the decision to suspend the arsenic treatment project for wells 1 and 2 until such time as results are available from tests to be performed at (the Town’s active wells),” Torres said.
Torres defeated former mayor Patricia Chavez in Bernalillo’s March 1 elections, after a campaign in which he castigated Chavez for water treatment problems revealed by The Independent.
Chavez had described water quality problems as “a minor violation” at a Feb. 16 mayoral candidates’ debate, but she subsequently fired Narasimhan, a week before the election.
Jerge resigned in April 2009, in the midst of a financial scandal. He was subsequently hired by Narasimhan’s wife, Dale-Ann Narasimhan.
Engineering firm Wilson & Company is now working with state Environment Department officials in an attempt to identify and remedy problems with the existing water treatment systems, Torres and Department officials said Tuesday.