By Jerome Reuter
The contamination of drinking water is a serious concern for many local residents and litigation against Saint-Gobain has raised many questions by local officials.
At the Londonderry Town Council meeting held on Monday, Sept. 27, Town Counsel, Michael D. Ramsdell, and assistant solicitor Michael Malaguti drafted a letter as to the town of Londonderry’s legal standing as it pertains to a lawsuit against Saint Gobain.
The letter on the matter was a part of a legal memo, which had the attorney-client privilege waived by the council and the letter was read by Malaguti.
Malaguti began by citing the statutes that exist as a part of New Hampshire state law.
“As a prerequisite to begin a case in New Hampshire, a plaintiff must establish what is called standing. Standing requires a plaintiff to demonstrate a concrete personal injury to that particular person.”
Mulagati went on to state that Londonderry has not suffered the effects of PFAS contamination in the eyes of the law. “As Londonderry has no public water system…it has no standing to sue Saint Gobain or any other party at this time.”
While Londonderry does not have the right to bring a lawsuit against Saint Gobain, that’s not to say that other forms of legal action are out of the question. Some New Hampshire residents have gone forward with independent lawsuits filed with the assistance of private law firms, “I’m disappointed that this is where we land.” Council chair John Farrell lamented, “I believe the town has been damaged and I wish there was a way for our legal system to support that.” In describing his own feelings towards the damage caused by Saint Gobain, Farrell described them as a “offender hiding out in the woods.”
Councilor Deb Paul pointed out that there are a group of citizens who were already in the process of taking legal action. Known as the Londonderry Citizens for Concerned Water. “(they) have been meeting on a monthly basis, getting larger and larger and has been following through…they could move things forward” Malaguti advised that if the group had been dealt personal damage, then they possess every right to move forward regarding legal matters.
“If the citizens of the town wish to go forward with this on their own behalf, I would certainly encourage it” said councilor Tom Dolan. “It certainly seems like the right thing to do from their point of view.” Dolan also noted that “Having been advised that the town as an entity has no standing in the legal process and can’t bring a suit against the offending party, I see that as an expensive, bottomless pit that the town cannot afford.” This is a sharp contrast with the town of Merrimack, who currently have a suit against Saint Gobain, mainly for the [purpose of holding the company accountable for the changes they have agreed to undergo.
This ongoing discussion regarding litigation against Saint-Gobain comes at a time when town officials have been looking at ways to provide clean drinking water to residents affected by contamination without having to ask taxpayers to pay for the infrastructure needed.
Town staff was asked to look into whether it was feasible to set up a water district, which Assistant Town Manager Lisa Drabik told the council that such an endeavor would be far too expensive to undertake since the town does not have a large enough water source to draw from.