EPA extends deadline for public comment
◆ Public comment is invited until November 15.
Members of the Afton community gathered in Star Valley High School’s auditorium Tuesday evening, September 27, for a hearing with the EPA regarding the agency’s preliminary determinations that Afton’s Periodic Spring, which supplies Afton’s water, is under the influence of ground water.
EPA officials assured those in attendance that they are seeking public opinion and knowledge about the water supply. “We would like to hear from you to inform EPA deliberations,” commented Jane Rutland, from EPA Region 4 in Atlanta, who served as the chair for the hearing that evening. “The purpose of this hearing is for EPA to gather input and information from members of the public so that EPA can consider your com- ments as it develops it’s final determination.”
EPA representatives explained the typical scientific structure of springs like the Periodic Spring, and the concern that often, a water source of that kind is found under the influence of ground water.
Over 35 public comments were expressed in the course of the evening, and the Afton community made it clear that Afton is not in agreement with the preliminary determinations, and that definitive scientific evidence is necessary in this instance before any further determinations are made.
“I don’t think [the hearing] could have gone any better, given the forum we were provided with the restrictions we had as the town and how we could present our stance on this predetermination and how they were going to limit us,” said Violet Sanderson, Afton Town Administrator, in an interview with Duke Dance with SVI News. Officials of the EPA had originally established a limit of three minutes on individual public comments but extended that to five minutes due to a large number of individuals preregistered to comment during the hearing.
“We had over 35 public comments from members of our community, and I am humbled and darn impressed by our community,” added Sanderson. “Council Member Humes put it best when she said we showed up with grace and grit, and that is a good description. Every member of the community that made public comment at this hearing did so in a very respectful way, and I think it showed well for our community. I’m thankful that everyone had a chance to relay concerns on the issues and help the town of Afton understand that this is something worth fighting for.”
Wyoming DEQ was in attendance along with Afton’s local legal representation and a legal team from Cheyenne. Represen- tatives from Senator Cynthia Lummus’ office were there and read a portion of a letter that was signed by the congressional delegation showing their support for Afton’s position.
“DEQ has been very helpful and supportive of us during this entire process, and they have not changed their stance on that as was shown in their comments made,” shared Sanderson. “Representative Simpson was there and his remarks and his expertise in being an engineer for the last 40 years and the comments he made were great. Some of our local engineers were able to talk and made some really excellent points. I think everything that everybody made comment to was substantive to the issue and not just berating.”
The public comment period for this hearing was originally set to close on October 4, but the EPA has issued a statement indicating that the period has been extended to November 15. Comments can be submitted online at the EPA website. A link to access the public comment page can be accessed at the Town of Afton web page and on their town’s Facebook page. “It’s important to allow for that because it gives people time to look at the transcription of the hearing or view the video broadcast of the hearing and really see the comments that were made, and the EPA’s presentation,” said Sanderson. “Then, if they have any comments or concerns in regards to what they see or hear, they can make them.”
Upon completion of the meeting, the Town of Afton is asking the EPA to take a step back and scientificly verify the safety of the town’s water supply.
“Our hope is that if they do that, in doing so, [the EPA] are going to realize that there is enough known about our spring, and that it’s not found to be under the direct influence of surface water,” added Sanderson. “However, if they do move forward with full-blown determination, I think our attorneys that were present at the meeting made it known that we are ready to prepare for appealing that determination, which would be a legal process in the court room.”
According to Sanderson, it’s critical for the Afton community to understand that if and when the Town determines that this needs to be a formal legal battle, certain financial resources will be necessary.
“I think it was very prevalent that the community members want us to move forward with fighting this and that’s important for our council to understand, because the resources that are going to be utilized to fight that fight are going to be part of our general fund reserves,” explained Sanderson. “Our current structure in place in the utility department is not going to cover that kind of [legal] cost for fighting this.”
Representatives from the Wyoming Water Development Commission have assured Afton, that they intend to do everything in their power in terms of influence with directors to ensure that a solid study will be conducted to ascertain the scientific safety of Afton’s water.
“This is paramount, because that can be added to the public record to tell the EPA that we are willing to move forward and allow for a study to be done to gain more information, before they make this determination,” added Sanderson. “Our best-case scenario is that, they go back and they look at the science and they don’t look at it from a biased perspective, or arbitrary view point, and they make a different determination.”
Afton wants to know and thoroughly understand the water system, and this process will afford an opportunity for that. Though there is no established timeline on when determinations will be concluded from the hearing, the record will close on November 15.
Sanderson encourages Afton residents to review the hearing transcript or view the video recording at https://svinews.com/ watch-live-epa-public-meeting- in-afton/. People should make their feelings known.
For more information on this action, see the docket at https:// www.regulations.gov/docket/ EPA-R08-OW-2022-0517/docu- ment.