Judge denies Andrews water emergency motion

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ANDREWS, Ind. (WANE) — More than a year after the town of Andrews learned the town’s water supply was contaminated, a judge has officially ruled on where the fault lies.

In a town council meeting Monday, the council told the crowded room that a judge had denied the town’s emergency motion for a preliminary injunction.

“The basis of that decision is that the judge felt it was not an emergency,” said town president John Harshbarger. “None of the tests proved to be over the MCL. The vinyl chloride MCL in Indiana is 2.0 micrograms per liter. Our last test showed 2.0 micrograms per liter but it’s not over the MCL.”

The decision was made in February however, the town just learned about the ruling last week. Why it took so long to hear the ruling, council members and the town’s lawyers have theories but nothing concrete.

Back in June of 2020, Andrews residents were informed that they could not use the town’s water because of contamination with high amounts of vinyl chloride in the town’s wells. The contamination is believed to have come from a company known as Raytheon Technologies.

Residents went without water for two weeks before it was deemed safe by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. However, many residents and town officials say they have not used the water since the contamination.

IDEM’s Voluntary Remediation Program (VRP) confirms that Raytheon has been actively mitigating on-site sources area, pumping and treating on-site groundwater with an air stripper located at the former UTA facility since 1994.

The air stripper unit is a pre-treatment process and is managed by Raytheon. The stripper is the first step in the path to clean drinking water. According to IDEM, the water department is responsible for maintaining the public water supply wells, treatment plants, and distribution systems. The water department is responsible for routinely monitoring the drinking water before it is delivered to the customers. Lawyer’s for the town has repeatedly told WANE 15 that the town has no access to the air strippers.

By the fall of 2020, town officials and more than 75 residents hired an attorney and filed an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction. A ruling in the injunction would have allowed Raytheon Technologies to move forward with cleaning up the town’s wells.

After a three-day trial in the Adams County Courthouse, a special judge told the court he would rule at a later date. A few months later the judge denied the preliminary injunction however, the town says they received the ruling just last week.

“I guess it’s less of an emergency if you’re not drinking the water,” Harshbarger said. “We offered them (Raytheon) our water in court. They choose the bottled water.”

While waiting for the ruling, town officials had begun to move forward to get the town clean water. Officals had begun to file for grants, ask Huntington County Council for COVID funds, and were making plans to move and create a new well on the south side of town away from the contaminated wells.

Councilmember Laura Dillion and Roger Newsome Jr. both agreed that they feel that Raytheon should help clean up the wells and with a majority of the Andrews community below the poverty line council members feel the town shouldn’t raise prices on the water they don’t feel is safe.

“This is an emergency for us,” councilwoman Laura Dillion said. “It’s not an emergency for anyone who doesn’t live here. We aren’t backing down.” 

Officials say Raytheon has promised to clean two of the town’s wells near the 2021 holidays. During that time the town will be asked to conserve the water.

While the town looked at hooking up to Huntington city well water they learned building a new well would be cheaper.

Building a new well will take the town more than two years. A full hearing and trial to determine if Raytheon should pay for the new well could also be two to three years down the road.

“The town will continue to fight it,” Harshbarger said. “There’s a lot of work to be done and we will continue to fight this battle and try to get clean water for this community.”

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