Legislature gives county power and $250,000 to sue over KJ pipeline

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:51

    GOSHEN-Orange County Executive Edward Diana has the authority to sue the Village of Kiryas Joel to force it to expand an environmental study of its proposed water pipeline. The county Legislature voted 18-3 last week to authorize Diana to spend up to $250,000 to begin the legal process. Legislators - even among those supporting the measure - disagreed about whether the suit could stop the line from being built. The Hasidic village wants to tap the New York Catskill aqueduct in New Windosr and build a 13-mile pipeline to bring the water to Kiryas Joel. The village would treat the water and has applied for a $20 million federal grant toward the estimated $22.2 million cost. The suit is a challenge to the village's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), required by New York State law on major projects. The county would charge that not all essential questions have been answered and more study is needed. It would not specifically attempt to stop the construction. But Spencer McLaughlin of Monroe said he believes the village cannot find an acceptable answer to the wastewater issue. This could force it to drop the project. One issue is that while Kiryas Joel has a sewer treatment plant, it could not handle the estimated two million gallons per day of water the pipeline could bring in. County officials say the county's Harriman sewer treatment plant also would be unable to handle the additional water. Legislators Michael Amo of Central Valley, Jeffrey Berkman of Middletown and Thomas Pahucki of New Hampton voted against the measure. "We are spending a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayers' money - and I believe it's just the first installment - to sue another municipality," said Amo, whose district includes Kiryas Joel. "We have never done that in the history of Orange County." Proponents fear that the county, as the holder of the license on the sewer plant, could be liable for far more than $250,000 in potential lawsuits and fines should the plant's capacity be overwhelmed by additional water. At the Oct. 7 meeting, several residents expressed fear that the increased water supply would allow even faster growth of a village that is already growing at nearly 6 percent a year. "This is for the purpose of trying to protect our zoning laws, without which the air our children breathe, the water they drink and the sanctity of our surroundings would be severely damaged by unbridled growth and development," said Robert Rovell of Woodbury. His wife, Darlene, said a Hassidic man was taking a picture of their home. When her husband asked what he was doing, the man said he hoped to move into the area to be near relatives in Kiryas Joel, she said. "After all, this is going to be Kiryas Joel in a few years," she quoted the man as saying. Woodbury Councilwoman Lorraine McNeil said Kiryas Joel has not accounted in the EIS for the fact that tapping New York City water from the Catskill aqueduct would affect water supply in the city's Delaware aqueduct and the reservoirs. One member of the public who spoke supported the pipeline and opposed the county's lawsuit. Robert Lawrence said Kiryas Joel had done what any municipality could have - it petitioned New York for a share of its water. And, he said, the village has devised "a double loop system that will take the wastewater and reintroduce it into the aquifer. This approach effectively revitalizes the aquifer," he said. Details of this plan, which has not been mentioned in previous discussions, were not available. Legislature Chairman Alan Seidman of Salisbury Mills said he had discussed negotiations and a presentation by Kiryas Joel's representatives, engineers and attorneys. When the village refused to extend the deadline on the EIS, the county declined to invite its representatives to present at a meeting, and the village declined further negotiation. Roxanne Donnery of Highland Falls said Kiryas Joel had ample time to discuss its plans with the involved towns had it wanted to discuss the proposal with them. All the communities in southeastern Orange County were represented at the Traffic Task Force and were all at the same table, she said. Donnery said Town of Woodbury Supervisor Sheila Conroy had written to the village that Woodbury could accept Kiryas Joel as lead agency, Donnery said. "I think the community believed Kiryas Joel would do a thorough (state environmental review) process," she said. "But it hasn't been done."