Consultant says Kiryas Joel followed proper procedures.

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:50

    Orange County plans to sue the Village of Kiryas Joel over its plan to tap into the New York City aqueduct and build a water pipeline to satisfy the growing thirst of the village. Following a presentation Monday by an engineer and a lawyer, members of three legislature committees discussed in closed session a proposal to spend up to $250,000 to overturn the village's environmental impact study in court. The vote was 14-1, with Michael Amo of Central Valley casting the lone negative vote. The committees were Rules, Ways and Means and Physical Services. The Legislature is expected to vote on the proposal at its Oct. 7 meeting and the 14 positive votes represent a majority of the full body. Spencer McLaughlin of Monroe, the chairman of the Rules Committee, said the numbers indicate that approval is a sure thing. He expects County Executive Edward Diana to begin the legal process before the Legislature meeting. Prior to the executive session, Kiryas Joel Village Clerk and Administrator Gedalye Szegedin said the report, by engineers Stearns and Wheler, shows that the village followed all the proper procedures in its Environmental Impact Statement. "Everything I heard indicates the village has done the process right," he said. "They followed up what they needed to do and took a hard look at the environment. The report shows we dotted every I and crossed every T. I would hope the county will not be influenced by other issues." In fact, the report states that the village followed the rules on timelines and in some cases allowed more time than was required for public input. The towns through which the 13-mile pipeline would pass - Monroe, Blooming Grove, Cornwall, Woodbury and New Windsor - were listed as "interested parties," a lower standard than "involved agencies." This was a small point, according to engineer Geoffrey G. Miller of Stearns and Wheler. The report also states that the village completed several parts of the study prematurely. However, this did not seem to affect the conclusions and is therefor not of great consequence, he said. The environmental report does contain some procedural errors, but "nothing that would be a show-stopper," said attorney Thomas J. Fucillo. However, he noted, the village left discussion of significant environmental impacts to the engineering phase, giving little detail in the EIS. "The purpose of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) is to evaluate impacts and plan mitigation up front before the designs are worked out," he said. Fucillo reserved these impacts, the "substantive issues" in the EIS for the closed session. Amo said Wednesday that the Stearns and Wheler report supported Kiryas Joel's position that the village had followed the procedures closely. He agreed that the county has legitimate questions on some of the conclusions in the EIS, but that these do not justify a suit "that will cost taxpayers at least $250,000 and possibly a lot more." "In the report and in the presentation neither Stearns and Wheler nor the lawyer convinced me that it is worth this kind of money to the taxpayers of Orange County," Amo said. "I also wonder why taxpayers from the entire county are funding this alone, without partnership from the municipalities that say they are most affected, such as Blooming Grove." Amo, whose district includes Kiryas Joel, generally favors seeking additional water supplies in southern Orange County, which has suffered loss of water during droughts. He has said tapping New York water is a good idea, even though people may disagree on who should be doing the tapping. McLaughlin said the committees' vote was not based on the procedural issues, which the engineers' report states by and large the village followed. The decision, he said, was based on substantive issues - the actual findings of the EIS, not whether rules were followed. The specific issues were discussed in executive or closed session and could not be made public, he added. McLaughlin did say he believes the village may not be able to mitigate the environmental issues raised, and this could doom the project. "Not everyone agreed that this is the case," he acknowledged. The county will be asking in court for Kiryas Joel to provide more information on several environmental concerns the county does not feel were sufficiently covered in the final environmental statement, he said. Szegedin said on Tuesday that he does not believe the county's action was based on the engineering. "I think they did what they did for reasons other than what it said in the report," he said. He also believes that the decision was made before the report was filed "at least by some people." The village will now wait for papers to be filed and then proceed to defend itself in court, Szegedin said. "We believe we will be vindicated, as we were in the Stearns and Wheler report. "Apparently, they think we didn't deal enough with sewer issues," he added. "The county had an 18-year-old sewer plant with problems. We built a new plant. If anyone has credibility on sewer issues, it is Kiryas Joel." The village plans to use its own plant, plus a part of the county's Sewer District No. 1 plant to dispose of the additional sewage that would be generated by a large increase in water supply. William Lahey of New Windsor questioned whether the village took into account the demands of other users of the county's plant. "Or did they just assume they could take all our extra capacity?" McLaughlin, prior to the closed session, questioned whether the Ramapo River, where wastewater is currently dumped, could handle any additional effluent. This could put a limit on increases in sewer capacity for both the county and Kiryas Joel.