Clayton business donates bottled water to Orleans residents

A group of volunteers fills water jugs at Frontenac Crystal Springs, Clayton. The water is being donated to the company in order to provide clean water to residents in the town of Orleans who have been affected by groundwater contamination. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

A group of volunteers fills water jugs at Frontenac Crystal Springs, Clayton. The water is being donated to the company in order to provide clean water to residents in the town of Orleans who have been affected by groundwater contamination. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

CLAYTON — The owner of Frontenac Crystal Springs has decided to donate up to 1,000 five-gallon jugs of spring water, filling a void for town of Orleans residents affected by long-standing groundwater contamination.

Peter F. Colello, owner of the business, was among volunteers who bottled jugs of water Monday night at his establishment on County Route 4 in the town of Clayton. Mr. Colello, a native of the hamlet of LaFargeville in Orleans, said he sympathizes with people who have wells surrounding the state Department of Transportation’s salt storage barn on Route 12 in Collins Landing. Widespread contamination has been blamed on the DOT, but the agency has refused to admit responsibility or discuss the matter.

“I had all of these used bottles in my warehouse that I wasn’t using, so I decided to put them to good use,” said Mr. Colello, who has many friends in Orleans. “I found out that some people have lead problems in the area, so it’s a lot more than just salt contamination. This has gone beyond a problem. It’s a crisis.”

Orleans Supervisor Kevin R. Rarick, who requested help from Mr. Colello, said he’s hopeful the large quantity of donated water will fill a temporary void for affected residents. The water is expected to be available for residents to pick up on Wednesday at the town barn on Sunrise Avenue in LaFargeville. It’s possible the five-gallon jugs will swiftly run out, he said. Residents could use more than 10 jugs per week for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth.

“We’ll give them to anyone in the contaminated area who’s affected,” he said Monday night, taking a break from loading five-gallon jugs on wooden pallets. Volunteers bottled about 300 jugs on Monday night and will bottle more later this week.

The state Department of Health, meanwhile, is developing a short-term plan to test wells and deliver bottled water to residents with contamination, Mr. Rarick said. He said it is possible the DOH could provide water to affected residents until a much-needed water line is built. Earlier this month, a mix of state officials and legislators met with Orleans officials in Albany to discuss how to tackle the matter.

“I hope by the time this donated water is gone, the plan is in effect so that there is no lapse,” Mr. Rarick said. “How do you give people free water and then tell them they have to wait for the state for more?”

The town is still seeking $3 million in additional grant funding that is needed to break ground on its $13-million water project, which would serve more than 500 users in and around Route 12 from Alexandria Bay to Fishers Landing. State officials have said they’re optimistic the town’s funding needs will be swiftly met.

Orleans Councilman Thomas A. Johnston, who was among the group of volunteers, said he hopes state officials will take heed of the grassroots effort led by the Clayton businessman to get bottled water to affected residents. He said it remains to be seen whether the state has made the issue a high priority.

“I hope this opens a few people’s eyes, but who knows?” he said. State officials “need to stop telling us they’re going to help and just make it happen.”

By Ted Booker, Watertown Daily Times