Million Air’s Pease oil farm threatens our water

0

Over the years, the coastline has faced many threats to its soil, waterways and drinking water. We now face another threat to all three.

Texas-based Million Air is proposing to build a 90,000 gallon industrial-scale aviation fuel farm at Pease. Million Air plans to build it next to the wetlands and pave a road through them. These sensitive wetlands are connected to the Pease drinking water supply and North Mill Pond. The storage and handling of chemicals such as jet fuel and de-icing fluid at this sensitive site poses a large-scale risk that cannot be allowed to fly under the radar.

The following are our primary concerns, which witnesses raised with the Department of Environmental Services (DES) Wetlands Office during its hearing or public comment period on Million Air’s wetland permit application: spills on the Million Air site could reach our drinking and surface waters.

Previous story:Million Air’s big Pease project, opposed by competitor, faces environmental review

The Haven Well water supply is part of the more than $60 million cleanup effort at Pease. Citizens’ group Testing For Pease has expressed concern that the project could jeopardize progress made to address contamination at Pease. We agree. A hydrologist, Danna Truslow, who gave a presentation to the DES Wetlands Bureau, identified these main concerns:

This is a concept drawing of the new fixed base operator facility that Million Air Aviation of Houston, Texas wants to build at Portsmouth International Airport in Pease.
  • These wetlands are connected, both naturally and via the city’s old wellheads called “Gosling Station”, to the underground water supply of Well Haven. Well Haven is a main source of water serving Pease and part of Newington.
  • These wetlands drain into Hodgson Creek, which runs through our residential neighborhoods and empties into North Mill Pond and the Piscataqua River. A spill at this site could spread to the community outside of Pease.
  • “The impact of this project must be considered from a regional and local perspective.

We agree. On a more basic level, the development plans for the Million Air site most likely underestimate the impact of this project on wetlands. An engineer told the Wetlands Bureau that Million Air’s proposed site shows much smaller wetlands than those presented in a 2017 survey of the same site by another developer who decided not to build. The community should demand an independent study to identify the total impact of this project on the wetlands.

Unfortunately, the Million Air proposal is moving forward with momentum. The DES Wetlands Office recently approved Million Air’s wetland permit application. Although this seems contrary to the protective role of DES, the Bureau of Wetlands does not base its decision on operations near wetlands. Thus, the permit does not comment on the wisdom, safety or potential environmental impact of Million Air’s proposed operation. The permit is not a safety approval, nor does it establish or prove that the project is safe for us or our water.

Given the limited scope of the Wetlands Office, the Wetlands Permit does not address any of the risks or overwhelming scientific data that has been submitted in opposition to Million Air’s proposed project. The permit fails to mention that Pease has other sites available without wetlands where Million Air could operate without jeopardizing the environment and our water supply.

The permit should serve as a wake-up call, a reminder of our past problems with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS contamination) and a warning of the risks for our future.

Wherever this project is subsequently approved, including the board of directors of the Pease Development Authority (PDA), policymakers should weigh the public good against the economic gain of a private Texas-based company. This is especially true when Million Air could develop this project on one of Pease’s safest non-wet sites. The PDA Board of Directors will have the final decision to grant or deny a lease to Million Air. The PDA Board also has the power to offer safer non-wet sites to Million Air, if they are concerned about the risks.

The Portsmouth Conservation Commission unanimously opposed the plan, but the wetland permit was issued anyway. We need to do more. Councillors, Select Boards, community leaders and especially Seacoast residents must make their opposition heard.

One thing that is obvious is that there are well-founded concerns and questions with no good answers. Those who forget their Pease story are doomed to repeat it. We must protect these wetlands and our local water supply and ensure the safety of our lives and that of future generations.

Dania Seiglie lives in Rye. Dudley Dudley lives in Durham and in 1976 was the first woman elected to the New Hampshire Executive Council.

Share.

Comments are closed.