Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh residents call on Congress to hold hearings on water crisis
PETERSBURGH The gathering of a group called Concerned C8 Citizens is becoming a weekly thing at the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Petersburgh, where residents claim recent victories in their battle against a dangerous chemical in their water called PFOA but insist there is still a long way to go.
Residents from nearby Hoosick Falls, who have been dealing with a similar water contamination crisis, are also making their voices heard.
"If we're not happy as moms and dads in Hoosick Falls you're going to be hearing from us," Hoosick resident Michele Baker said.
Baker was at the meeting Tuesday night and she joined a tight circle of mothers, fathers, community leaders and friend, all who have individual stories but one common goal.
"The goal is to get more people here and more people involved," Petersburgh resident and Concerned C8 Citizens member Ira Share said. "There's just so many questions that we don't have really good answers to yet."
Lately people in both communities have made a lot of noise and lawmakers are listening.
A rally at the Capitol last Wednesday ended in a sit-down meeting with one of Governor Cuomo's top staffers. Residents say Chief Operations Director Jim Malatras pledged to look into bringing blood testing to Petersburgh as well as a feasibility study to Hoosick Falls.
A few days later, the legislature passed a bill that clears the way for people who believe they are sick because of the contamination to file suit against the companies responsible.
"But we still don't have our hearings," Baker said.
Community members say state or federal hearings would likely uncover who knew what about the water contamination, and when.
Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R-Troy) has been urging the legislative leaders to call hearings on the state level for months. Even though the 2016 Legislative Session is over, hearings could still happen if Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie or Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan make the call.
"You can't go forward without looking backwards a little bit. You can't say, 'Well, we're just going to ignore what the breakdowns were and we hope they never happen again,' McLaughlin said. "Because I would contend that they very will likely happen again."
Now, there is a call for hearings on the federal level too.
"I mean this is a bipartisan issue. We can't get answers in our own backyard in Albany? We have to go to Washington D.C. to uncover the cover-up? I'll take it," Baker said.
Congressman Chris Gibson (R-Kinderhook) sent this letter to the House Oversight Committee last month asking for a Congressional investigation into how state and federal officials handled the water crisis.
Congressman Paul Tonko released the following statement indicating that he is pushing for the same thing:
"I support a federal hearing on Hoosick Falls and will continue to push for more thorough federal oversight of the many places where people have been poisoned by their drinking water and public trust has been eroded. Hoosick Falls resonates with us because it is right in our backyard and deserves the attention countless other water infrastructure breakdowns have received nationwide."
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) also sent a letter to the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee asking for a hearing to investigate the crisis as well.
And earlier this week, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) joined the chorus of calls.
"We can't just shrug our shoulders and say, 'Oh, bad stuff happened.' We have an obligation to these people," Schumer said.
Members of of Concerned C8 Citizens told CBS6 they plan to meet every week until their questions are answered and their concerns eased.