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EPA and DEQ dismiss water quality complaint against Avimor

A water quality complaint filed against Avimor by a former Eagle mayoral candidate has been closed by both the federal and state government with no action. 

Earlier this summer, Chris Hadden filed a complaint with both the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleging the planned community is trying to dump the cost of remediating arsenic onto City of Eagle taxpayers and the developer is underselling what sort of contaminants are in the water. The complaint also raised objections to political donations from Avimor developers to the current Mayor Jason Pierce and various other Eagle City Council members. 

Both agencies quickly declined to investigate the claim, citing jurisdiction issues and a lack of evidence pointing to a problem with arsenic levels in wells at the development. 

“…That would be a local development issue, not a federal oversight issue,” EPA spokesman with the EPA told BoiseDev. “I think your best bet is to continue to work with local government and DEQ with the concerns being raised.”

Idaho DEQ Drinking water Compliance Supervisor Brandon Lowder told BoiseDev Hadden’s complaint stems from arsenic being discovered at higher levels than required in a test well, not a well planned to be used for drinking water. He also noted any allegations related to political donations made from the developer to Eagle city council members is not in the purview of environmental regulators. 

“There’s not really much to investigate,” he said. “It’s a test well and it’s just that. What we have recovered from Avimor does not show a problem.”

Hadden, who ran for Mayor of Eagle in 2019 on the platform of limiting growth in the foothills, said he’s not too surprised to hear his complaints won’t be moving ahead because the early stage of well development at Avimor. He says he filed the complaints to draw attention to the connection between campaign finance donations from Avimor and city leaders who were elected in 2019.

“(The complaint) is more or less pointing out that there could be a pay-for-play scheme here,” Hadden said.

What does the complaint say?

Hadden’s complaint largely stems from his concerns with a water service agreement between the City of Eagle and Avimor.

This summer the Eagle City Council signed an agreement with the planned-community developer agreeing to give the water infrastructure built to serve the community to the city after construction. As BoiseDev previously reported, Avimor plans to serve all but the first phase of homes at the project from a combination of surface water available on the property and 5 cubic feet per second of water pumped from groundwater wells on site. 

The first phase of homes, with roughly 800 planned residences, are served by Suez pumping water up into the foothills after arsenic was discovered in a test well drilled into the Sandy Hill Aquifer underneath that section of the development. Avimor developer Dan Richter told BoiseDev earlier this year this aquifer sits in a granite bowl, isolating it and the arsenic in the water from other aquifers in the area. 

Hadden’s complaint points to the arsenic levels discovered in this test well as evidence that by Eagle agreeing to accept the water infrastructure from Avimor, it will open the taxpayers up to liability. 

“This Arsenic problem is the sole responsibility of Avimor, its developer/s and partners and should not be borne by the City of Eagle or its residents,” Hadden wrote. “Avimor, its developers and partners in their report to the City of Eagle failed to identify the additional costs associated with remediation of the Arsenic problem in their wells and are attempting to push the millions of dollars associated with remediation onto the shoulders of the residents of The City of Eagle.”

But, both Richter and City of Eagle spokesperson Ellen Mattila say the agreement requires Avimor to bear the costs of mitigating any arsenic in the wells. 

“If the DEQ determines there are high levels of arsenic in the wells that Avimor will give to the City of Eagle, our Water Management Agreement states that Avimor will either drill new wells or pay for arsenic treatment and ongoing mitigation for the water source,” Mattila wrote in an email. 

The text of the agreement between the City of Eagle and Avimor has a line requiring Avimor to pay for the water to stay in compliance with regulations.

“Developer will be required to develop a well monitoring plan and will be responsible for the on-going monitoring of the wells through the completion of construction of the developments,” the Water Service Agreement says. “Developer will ensure that source water meets Idaho Department of Environmental Quality requirements upon dedication of Water Facilities to the City of Eagle.”

Avimor plans for two wells to serve entire community

Although Avimor drilled test wells, including the one where arsenic levels were discovered a few years ago, Richter said it has identified two sites for wells it will use to provide drinking water. 

The first well is not fully functional yet, but Richter said early tests estimate it will produce the entire water supply Avimor is entitled to by their water right on its own. The developer is also in the process of moving one of its approved well-drilling sites from the Spring Valley area over to Avimor and locating it close to the first well. That well would be used as a backup water source, he said. 

“We actually found really good water,” Richter said. “The well we have now tests very well. There are no pollutants in it at all. You can go right from the well to the table. There’s no arsenic.”

Richter said the second well has only undergone early tests, but he expects it will also be of the same water quality and quantity as the first one because they are pulling from the same aquifer. 

He said there are two main techniques to mitigate arsenic in water, either treating it at a water treatment plant or blending two water sources together to get the arsenic levels below safe levels. Richter said the costs for this style of treatment aren’t huge due to all of the technology on the market following the Bush administration dropping safe levels of arsenic over a decade ago. 

If there was arsenic discovered in the second well once they started pumping at higher volumes, Richter said Avimor would likely blend the water from the two well sources in order to lower the levels. But no matter what, he said Avimor’s agreement with Eagle and the Idaho Department of Water Resources says they can pump no more than 5 cubic feet per second and needing to blend water to lower arsenic levels would not increase the amount of water pulled from the ground. 

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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