County Legislators Oppose KJ Water Deal

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:48

    GOSHEN-The Orange County Legislature, by a vote of 20-1 decided last Thursday, July 1, to go on record as opposing a proposed water line connecting the Village of Kiryas Joel to New York City's Catskill Aqueduct. TheLegislature's meeting room was filled, with people in the normally empty center, in all the visitors' galleries and spilling out into the hallway. The resolution, by itself may not have a great effect on the future of the proposed 13-mile line. However, lawmakers say it is only a first step. The Legislature stated its opposition, giving reasons, and resolved to send its statement - known as a memorializing resolution - to state and federal representatives, to the City of New York Department of Environmental Resources and to relevant local officials. The Village of Kiryas Joel is proposing to tap the aqueduct in the Town of New Windsor and run the 13-mile line through New Windsor, Monroe and Blooming Grove. An alternate route would include Woodbury in the mix. The project is estimated to cost $29 million, with about $20 million being covered by a federal grant. "The memorialization has no direct effect on the progress of the pipeline," said Legislator Spencer McLaughlin of Monroe. "It's an appeal from one municipality (Orange County) to another (New York City), which is likely to fall on deaf ears without a follow up. But follow up is intended." McLaughlin said he has encouraged pipeline opponents to lobby the New York City Council. "If their effort is similar to the campaign at the county level recently, it should be effective," he said. He is also trying to get the county to take legal action to have Kiryas Joel's environmental review thrown out and started again with the county as lead agency. Ian Michaels of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection said his department has no discretion when it comes to approving a tap. If the municipality is within the eight-county area in which the city's water agreement is in force, the DEP is obligated to allow for a tap. Other municipalities cannot tap into the water line that will run through their borders because the city is only authorized to supply the municipalities named in the application, Michaels said. In fact, when DEP officials saw stories in the newspapers implying that Kiryas Joel was offering water to other municipalities, they asked for a meeting. "We told them we had conflicting reports, and we asked whether they had intended to include other towns in their application. They said the application was correct, and the stories were not correct. Legislator Frank Fornario Jr. of Chester said when he initially proposed this resolution in May, he was told it was a purely local issue. "People said this was not something that affected the whole county," he said. "We've gone from that to 20 to 1." Fornario, a Republican, said he was happy that Roxanne Donnery, a Democrat from Highland Falls, cosponsored the resolution, as this made it a bipartisan issue. Donnery's district includes parts of the Town of Woodbury, which would be directly affected. Fornario calculated the increase in population of the next 20 years and found that the population will more than double - from 15,000 or 16,000 to as much as 44,000. The impact on traffic, pollution and environmental stress would be tremendous. The increased water usage would also mean that some 3,000 gallons per day would flow into the county's water treatment plant. One municipality would be using half the plant's capacity. Kiryas Joel's population density of 11,949 per square mile is nearly double the City of Middletown's 6,000, he noted. The resolution is more than symbolic, Fornario maintained. "With a 20 to 1 passage it shows people are not afraid to speak publicly on this issue," he said. "In the past people would express concerns privately, but they were unwilling to take on this large voting bloc." Donnery agreed that follow up will be necessary and inevitable. "Letters have been written to New York's Mayor and City Council," she said. "I can see busloads of people going to the city." While some people may see the Legislature's action as simply words, Donnery said, she believes that organized citizen action can stop the pipeline. "They told me a small group of parents could not change the PINS (Persons in Need of Supervision) law," she said. "But we were able to change the PINS law. They said you could not get special federal legislation for one school district (Highland Falls), but we did," she said. Blooming Grove Supervisor Charles Bohan said he has opposed the pipeline because "it would involve tearing up my two main arteries in inconveniencing my people for 18 months to two and a half years. And it would bring no benefit to my town. It's for the convenience of one municipality." While the passage of a resolution putting the county on record opposing the pipeline has no immediate effect, he said, "what it does do is send a message to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and to state legislators that what they are doing is favoring one segment of the population over others, and that's not how things should be done." Bohan also fears that Kiryas Joel will be back for more water in a few years as its population explodes. "What will we do in 10 years, when they say their water supply is not adequate for their population?" he asked. Donnery said she also fears a population expansion, citing press reports that a Kiryas Joel developer has acquired the nearby ACE Farm. "I think the opposition really built when people heard that ACE Farm had been flipped to Kiryas Joel," she said. "People accept the village as it is now, but they are concerned about possible growth. When they heard about the farm development, they were astounded." Woodbury Supervisor Sheila Conroy said she had read the entire Draft Environmental Impact Statement submitted by Kiryas Joel, and she felt there were serious deficiencies that were not addressed. In particular the impact on the county's wastewater treatment plant and the village's future growth were underestimated. These deficiencies remained in the final statement, she said. "It's always a problem when someone who is doing a proposal reviews their own work," Conroy said. "The county should have had a consultant review the statement and analyze whether the information was accurate." McLaughlin acknowledged that the county's resolution has no real teeth. "The county was good on words," he said. "Now it's time to back up these words with action." Legislature Chairman A. Alan Seidman of Salisbury Mills said he is not sure of what effect the resolution will have. "It is a memorialization of the Legislature's concerns," he said. In particular, "the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review Act) process was not followed properly. There was no opportunity for the county to voice its concerns." While the proposed increase in wastewater the tap would bring about will be handled, in part, by the county's Harriman treatment plant, the county was not included in the list of "concerned ties," Seidman said. However, the Village of Kiryas Joel's intense lobbying efforts before the vote indicates that "they seem to feel it will have an impact," Seidman said. "There are legitimate concerns on both sides." Attempts to reach County Executive Edward Diana and Legislator Michael Amo, who voted against the resolution, were unsuccessful.