onnery and Fornario also say NYC engineers questioned the need for an 18-inch pipe and that the city may need the water for itself

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:52

    GOSHEN-Kiryas Joel's plan to draw water from New York City's Catskill Aqueduct depends on two pipelines, Orange County legislator Roxanne Donnery of Highland Falls said last week. One pipeline is physical - a 13-mile stretch of pipe from the aqueduct tap in New Windsor to the village. The second pipeline is political, she added, a connection between the residents of the towns surrounding the Hassidic village and politicians in New York City and New York State. Donnery, legislator Frank Fornario of Chester and several local officials said at a press conference last week that "the aqueduct tap is not a done deal." They met with officials of New York City's Department of Environmental Protection on Nov. 8 to discuss the village's plan to draw water from the aqueduct. Fornario described the trip to New York City as "a fact-finding mission." Several Orange County officials had given the impression that the tap and pipeline were fully approved by the city, and "we wanted to know if that was the case. I would not have supported spending taxpayers' money on a lawsuit if it were a done deal." The invitation from New York City came as a result of questions Fornario, other Orange County legislators and citizens of Monroe and Woodbury had asked the city, Fornario said. The city's Department of Environmental Protection has a new acting commissioner, David B. Tweedy, and they met with him and several of the city's attorneys and engineers. Kiryas Joel's Clerk/Administrator, Gedalye Szegedin, says the announcement that the pipeline is not a done deal is old news. The process involves a good deal of planning and engineering. New York won't sign off on the tap until final plans have been presented and approved. Orange County's lawsuit has stalled that process, he said. Before the New York City Department of Environmental Protection gives final approval, "SEQRA (the study under the State Environmental Quality Review Act) must be complete," he said. "Orange County has initiated a lawsuit (challenging the SEQRA study), and that lawsuit must be settled before we can prepare a final design." However, the village's plan could hinge on whether New York has enough water to supply new users, a spokesman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection said this past Monday. Under a 1905 law, there are only two criteria for whether the city must allow a municipality to hook up to the city's aqueducts, said spokesman Ian Michaels. First, the applicant must be a municipality, that is, not a private corporation, homeowners association or other non-municipal user. Second, it must be in one of the eight counties that make up the city's watershed. Kiryas Joel clearly meets both criteria. However, Michaels said, city engineers have raised questions about details in the Hassidic village's request. For instance, the 18-inch pipeline the village has proposed is larger than necessary to meet the stated water requirements. The village has not submitted engineering specifications to answer this question. "Their application is for 2 million gallons per day, and they are predicting an annual growth rate of 6 percent per year," he said. "This amount should not require an 18-inch pipe." The only other requirement is that New York City have sufficient water to serve the 9 million people currently using the system plus the new applicant. This is still under study, Michaels said, because the city will have to shut down the Delaware Aqueduct at some point within the next 10 years for major repairs. During the year that the Delaware Aqueduct is closed, the city is looking at a shortfall of some 400,000 gallons per day. "We have a lot of options for possible alternate sources," Michael said, "such as water from New Jersey or Long Island. There's also an aquifer under Brooklyn and Queens." The current lawsuit Orange County has taken against the village's plans will not affect New York's decision on whether to grant Kiryas Joel's application for city water. That affects the pipeline from the proposed tap to the village. The county is suing to overturn an environmental study the village submitted on the pipeline, primarily because the extra water that would be generated would place too great a burden on the county's wastewater treatment plant in Harriman. The environmental study does not sufficiently address this concern, according to the county's lawsuit. "This pipeline, 13 miles, is longer than any municipality has proposed," Michaels said, "but that is not our concern. We are required to consider only whether the applicant is a municipality and whether it is within the 8-county area. The only thing that's up to us is whether we have sufficient water to give a dependable supply." At the Nov. 8 meeting, city DEP attorneys and officials told the legislators, Woodbury Supervisor Sheila Conroy, Blooming Grove Supervisor Charles Bohan and Washingtonville Mayor Leonard Curcio that the water tap "was not a done deal," Donnery said. "We had been told throughout this process that it was a done deal, but they do not have final permission to tap the aqueduct." Donnery said she and other officials have been pressing for a meeting with the DEP for months. She is hoping citizen action will keep the momentum going now that the meeting has taken place. "Citizens need to be aware of the need to send letters to the governor, to Joe Bruno, to Sheldon Silver, to Michael Bloomberg," she said. "Only citizen action will be able to stop this. I believe in the power of citizens; that's what speaks to politicians. That's where I come from." Donnery's first realization of the power of citizen action occurred during her tenure on the Highland Falls School Board, she said. The school district was faced with a tremendous shortfall in funding because the federal government was not meeting its obligation to pay for the land West Point takes off the tax rolls. Pressure from residents, largely organized by Donnery, forced the feds to pass special legislation reimbursing the school district for the loss. Donnery has also been active in organizing parents around the regulations for Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS), gaining changes in that program for young people in trouble. Bohan, the Blooming Grove supervisor, said he left the meeting with the impression that New York City has concerns about the length of the pipeline, the environmental review process and the ability of Kiryas Joel to deal with possible shutdowns of the aqueduct in the future. "They are saying that they have their current wells as a backup, but if their population continues to grow, these wells won't be sufficient," Bohan said. "There's a good possibility that in the future they will be using the wells in addition to the pipeline as their population grows." Bohan said he also has the impression that "a phone call from Albany could put this on the fast track," and, like Donnery, he is asking citizens of surrounding towns to contact their representatives and the governor and voice their objections. Szegedin said the village wells are currently supplying Kiryas Joel's needs, and they would be available if New York City had to shut down one of its aqueducts for repairs. In addition, he pointed out, the village would not draw from these wells while New York is supplying water. "We will preserve the aqueduct by removing Kiryas Joel. That will be one less straw sucking water from that cup, and it should help Monroe and Woodbury." Szegedin also noted that the law does not set a limit on the number of municipalities that can tap the New York aqueducts. "It doesn't say 75 municipalities can hook up, but not Kiryas Joel."