Woodbury fights K.J. pipeline

Multiple suits brought to halt construction

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  • Attorney David Gordon explains the many legal entanglements of Woodbury and its local leaders, who are fighting a water pipeline under construction for the Village of Kiryas Joel. (Photo by Joshua Rosenau)

– It was a packed house on Thursday, when Supervisor John Burke and Orange County Legislator Roxanne Donnery joined attorney David Gordon to discuss the pipeline currently under construction for the Village of Kiryas Joel and their efforts to stop it.

Conflict between the government of Woodbury and its residents and the actions of Kiryas Joel and its leaders deepened as construction crews this spring began burying sections of pipeline for a project that has yet to gain full approval from the state.

If built, the pipeline would convey water from the New York City viaduct to the Kiryas Joel. The pipeline is expected to expand water use in the village from 1.6 million gallons per day to 2.5 million gallons per day, with a maximum capacity of 6 million gallons per day.

Thursday evening, Burke called the K.J. project a direct threat to the future of Woodbury.

“This really is a gut-check meeting,” he said. “Every town, village, city would like to control its own destiny. That’s not a bad way to live: controlling our own destiny. However, there are many outside forces that are sticking their ideas, their thoughts and their desires into our destiny. It’s very upsetting. It’s constant.”

As opponents of the pipeline, Woodbury, Burke and Donnery are currently parties in multiple law suits, which were explained by Gordon, the man hired to mount their defense.

The central lawsuit is Woodbury’s case against Kiryas Joel for understating the environmental impact of the pipeline to the state Department of Conservation. Among other impacts, Gordon said that the increased water from the pipeline would result millions of gallons of added wastewater from Kiryas Joel that the county’s sewer facility at Harriman cannot thoroughly treat.

The suit also argues that a back-up well Kiryas Joel needs in order to connect with the New York City viaduct would harm the aquifer feeding a well already approved to supply 500,000 gallons per day to Woodbury.

Why the pipeline continues

Efforts to pause the pipeline have themselves been stalled in court.

Supreme Court Judge Francis A Nicolai denied a preliminary injunction that Gordon requested at his first court appearance for Woodbury, Gordon said.

Gordon has since made a formal injunction filing, but Nicolai’s deliberations have gone beyond the 20-day deadline. The judge is still undecided, Gordon said.

Though Woodbury and the adjacent town of Cornwall have joined together to oppose the project, the municipalities have no control over the work because it has be routed across county and state roads, Burke said.

Donnery said that County Executive Ed Diana agreed to give Kiryas Joel the permits it needed to begin building.

“Guess what? There isn’t a darn thing the town can do," Donnery said. "There’s nothing anyone can do about it because the permitting that was given was from our Orange County DPW.”

Burke said that county and state leaders responsible for approving the plans only came to Woodbury after the deal was done.

“It was a conscious decision. It was a strategic decision,” he said.

An attempt to slow the project through public protests by Burke and Donnery prompted attorneys for Kiryas Joel to file suit against them.

In response to that case, the judge has been asked to approve ground rules for public protests.

Both the case against Burke and Donnery and the rules for protests remain unannounced, Gordon said.

Next steps

Comments from the Department of Environmental Conservation have resulted in the state agreeing to a public hearing on the pipeline matter.

Once the date for the hearing is set, Gordon urged members of the public with an interest in the project to go and make their grievances known.

“For the DEC, the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” he said.

Burke urged residents whose property may be affected by construction to photograph areas before and after to document any impacts.

With elections nearing, several in the audience implored audiences to call on their legislators and local representatives to take a stand on the issue.

As for exactly where Kiryas Joel will bury more pipe in the ground, Burke said that K.J.’s leaders are the only ones who know.

“We’ve been calling them every day and asking them,” he said. “So far, it’s worked.”

The pipeline project has yet to receive a permit from the state Department of Transportation to extend all the way up Route 32 to its final destination, Gordon said.

“That’s because they haven’t applied,” he said.

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