Sewer expansion to LaGuardia promised all along

| 22 Feb 2012 | 01:23

    Final vote of full legislature scheduled for Aug. 5 Chester — After all the wrangling about whether the county was obligated to extend its sewer district to the former Camp LaGuardia site, it turns out that sewer services were promised from the start. The initial request for proposals included a promise of water and sewer infrastructure under the mistaken idea that adequate capacity was available, county attorney David Darwin told the legislature’s Physical Services Committee. The county sent out the request for proposals shortly after purchasing the LaGuardia site in 2007 — before Mountco Development Corp. or any other prospective buyer came on the scene. That sealed the committee’s 4-3 vote to send the sewer expansion proposal to the Rules Committee, and then to the full legislature for a final vote on Aug. 5. Legislator Dan Depew of Wallkill said that although he voted against selling the property to Mountco, he now felt that the request for proposals legally obligated the county to provide the developer with sewer service. Mountco plans to build 907 affordable housing units, a satellite college, and a major commercial complex on the former homeless shelter property. Legislator Katie Bonelli of Blooming Grove voted against sending the proposal to the full legislature. She asked the committee to “not close down the process while we are still coming up with solutions.” Legislator Michael Paduch of Middletown also voted no. Agreeing to the expansion would leave a bad impression, that it was being done for the sake of a single developer. If it was such a good idea, he argued, why wasn’t it done years ago, when it could have made the property more marketable? Officials from the towns of Chester and Blooming Grove, where the property is located, urged the committee to hold off on a decision. Towns push back Meanwhile, Chester, Blooming Grove and Monroe are “necessary parties” in a lawsuit against the county and legislature for failing to review how the expansion would affect the towns fiscally and environmentally. The property is in the Monroe-Woodbury School District. On Monday night, Blooming Grove’s town board passed a resolution against the expansion. Supervisor Frank Fornario said it was illegal because the town was not consulted. The county says its actions are legal because the law in question refers to consulting towns which already have a similar sewage treatment system. Chester Supervisor Steve Neuhaus had Legislator Dan Castricone speak for him before the Physical Services Committee because its members stopped him from speaking the last time they met on the issue. Castricone said Neuhaus asked him to relay the message that it would be more prudent to wait for firmer plans from Mountco, for a more accurate idea of the developer’s needs. But Leigh Benton, the committee chair, was against waiting. Some legislators have privately agreed they would be willing to adjust the price for a lower number of housing units. “We have to move forward on this,” he told the committee. “We were the big dog that righted the situation.” He referred to the county purchase that effectively closed down the unpopular New York City-owned homeless shelter. Many county officials are eager to sell the property to recoup the $8.5 million purchase price. Depew said each district contributed $425,000 to buy former homeless shelter property. The county is also paying towns for unused sewer capacity. The towns have their own worries: Who will pay for the massive infrastructure changes? How extensive will the environmental damage be? Will towns be deprived of home rule? Legislator Myrna Kemnitz of Monroe said that, after paying into the system for years, towns should not be charged for infrastructure changes that will benefit others. This is the basis of a lawsuit Woodbury and Harriman have brought against a host of their neighbors, including Kiryas Joel and the villages and towns of Chester, Monroe, and Blooming Grove. Town officials and environmental protection groups say environmental damage will be massive. The county argues that, because the property is currently vacant, the expansion is a mere change of allocation with no impact. As for governance, the county had promised to include the towns in the decision-making process. But the towns say they have so far had next to nothing to do with any of the decisions made. More meetings, attended by plenty of lawyers, are planned for this week in the towns involved. Later this month the Moodna Sewer Commission, whose members include Chester, Monroe and Harriman, will meet to discuss grants to help them consolidate their districts. The committee also agreed to spend $510,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Harriman plant. This money is already allocated in the capital fund. Why LaGuardia matters The Mountco Development Corp. plans to build 907 affordable housing units, a satellite college and a major commercial complex on the former homeless shelter property. Although the property is located in the towns of Chester and Blooming Grove, whatever happens there will also have an impact elsewhere because the property also is located within the boundaries of the Monroe-Woodbury School District. On the Web To read the public comments on the proposed sewer expansion, visit