Air Force won’t pay Newburgh for cleanup of toxic lake

Source:, February 21, 2019
By: Lana Bellamy

The Air Force is refusing to reimburse the City of Newburgh for costs incurred from the continual cleanup at Washington Lake of toxic chemicals tied to activities at the Stewart Air National Guard Base.
The Department of the Air Force advised city officials that Newburgh’s claim for damages was denied in a letter dated Jan. 29, according to a news release issued Thursday by the City of Newburgh.
The denial comes after the city filed a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act in April asking the federal government to pay for expenses and other damages that resulted from cleaning up per- and polyfluoroalkyl, or PFAS, contamination in Washington Lake, the city’s former primary water source.
Alan Knauf of Knauf Shaw LLP, attorneys retained by the city to file the claim, said the city is hopeful federal officials will ultimately accept responsibility for the contamination and that continued discharges of toxic chemicals from the Air National Guard Base will stop.
Newburgh stopped using water from Washington Lake in May 2016 after the contamination was discovered and started using water from the Catskill Aqueduct. The city also drew from Brown’s Pond in October while the New York City Department of Environmental Protection made repairs to the Catskill Aqueduct.
“The city just wants to protect its residents, get reimbursed for all of its expenses and get its watershed cleaned up,” interim City Manager Joe Donat said in the release. “There is no doubt that Stewart Air National Guard Base is a source of the PFAS that contaminated Washington Lake.”
Donat said the city may amend its complaint to incorporate more claims against the defendants.
“The City of Newburgh didn’t contaminate its own water supply. Its citizens shouldn’t have to pay to clean up a mess they didn’t make,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney said in a statement. “The federal government contaminated the water and they have the responsibility to pay for remediation.”
Maloney added that Congress worked to include millions of dollars in funding to pay for remediation in last year’s federal defense bill.

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