Woodstock weighs wastewater project

Ken Panza. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

The Woodstock Town Board on April 17 prepared to move forward on a proposal to improve the operation of the town’s water/wastewater treatment plant by installing a sludge-processing system that promises to deliver long-term economic and environmental benefits.

The project would entail the installation of reed beds at the 27-acre site of the municipal facility off Route 212 east of the hamlet. In such systems common reeds, such as Phragmites communis, dewater sludge for subsequent treatment as liquid waste. The system would replace vacuum-assisted drying beds that date to the water/wastewater plant’s construction in 1985.

The drying beds have never worked properly, according to a resolution under consideration by the Town Board. As a result, Woodstock has spent nearly $60,000 annually in recent years to truck some 67,000 gallons of wet sludge to the Albany area and more than 185,000 gallons of septic tank waste to a facility in Saugerties.


The Town Board will revisit the proposal at a special meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. next Tuesday, April 24, at the municipal offices on Comeau Drive. Dennis Larios, a principal of the town’s engineering firm, Brinnier & Larios, will discuss the wastewater plant’s current operations and details of a reed bed system. Whether Woodstock’s water/wastewater superintendent, Larry Allen, will also attend the meeting could not be confirmed at press time.

Brinnier & Larios estimates that a reed bed system would cost about $280,000 to install. The resolution indicates that the cost could be financed through the combined reserves of the hamlet and on-site sewer districts, totaling approximately $178,000, which would be supplemented by the districts’ combined unexpended fund balances, amounting to $218,000, or, if necessary, an increase in the benefit-unit charges paid annually by residents of the districts.

According to the resolution, a reed bed system would benefit the town by reducing trucking and energy costs while producing a high-quality solid material. The solids would be removed and the reeds replanted at intervals of roughly ten years. The process, said the resolution, “would result in significant cost savings and less harmful environmental impacts by greatly reducing the carbon footprint.” The board voted to engage the services of Brinnier & Larios for design and engineering work on the project.


Solar array proposed

Council members appeared receptive to the reed bed system, but their response to a proposal to pursue grant funding for an installation of photovoltaic panels at the water/wastewater facility was mixed.

Randolph Horner, a local renewable energy consultant and an author of Woodstock’s Carbon Neutral Initiative (CNI), requested authorization to act as the town’s agent in seeking a qualified solar energy company that would apply for grant funding for the project from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The authorization would take the form of a nonbinding letter of intent, which would enable the chosen company to bid for the funding but would not commit the town to proceeding with the project.

Horner offered his services as the town’s procurement agent at no cost; he could be compensated at a later date, through the project’s funding, if the proposal came to fruition, he said. Horner’s clients include the town of Esopus, which has embarked on an expansion of its use of solar energy to power municipal facilities.

Time was of the essence, as the application deadline for NYSERDA’s current round of funding was May 24, said Horner, a former member of the Woodstock Environmental Commission and a prime mover in the installation of 112 solar panels atop Town Hall around 2006. A photovoltaic array at the water/wastewater plant, he said, could substantially reduce the cost of the facility’s significant consumption of electricity, while advancing the progress of the CNI, which commits the town to achieving “carbon neutrality” — net zero carbon-dioxide emissions — by 2017.

A testy exchange ensued when councilman Ken Panza declared that he was “uncomfortable” with Horner’s presentation. Panza read passages from e-mails and other written correspondence, dating from 2007 to 2010, in which NYSERDA officials informed the Woodstock supervisor (initially Jeremy Wilber and subsequently Jeff Moran) that Horner had failed to submit required progress reports on an installation of photovoltaic panels at the town highway garage in Bearsville, despite repeated requests by NYSERDA for updates. One of the NYSERDA e-mails cited “broken promises” and “excuses” that undermined the official’s faith in Horner’s ability to assist in the project’s execution.

Horner countered that he had not submitted the reports because “there was nothing to report.” The plan for the installation at the garage had been serially revised, he said, adding, “It is wrong to suggest that Woodstock or I am persona non grata at NYSERDA.” Wilber, the former and current supervisor, noted that a 2007 audit by the state comptroller’s office awarded the Town Hall solar installation, which Horner had overseen, an “A-plus” rating.

The Town Board will respond to Horner’s request for authorization after the April 24 special meeting on the reed bed proposal for the treatment plant.


Other items on the agenda included the following.


Financial report. As noted previously by Wilber (see Woodstock Times, April 12, 2012), the 2011 annual report on the town’s finances, prepared by the Kingston accounting firm Kimball and O’Brien, disclosed that the unexpended balance in the general fund had grown to approximately $240,000, from a nadir of nearly zero a year earlier. The report also found, said Wilber, that the town has an accrued liability of $535,000 in the form of prospective compensation for unused sick days by employees of more than 20 years’ standing; that is, the town would owe that amount if the four or five eligible employees redeemed the benefit all at once. More encouraging, said the supervisor, is the existence of more than $200,000 in a reserve fund designated for such compensation. “If we have any leftover money at the end of this year, I will strongly recommend that we put it in this reserve fund,” said the supervisor, who observed that a healthy balance in the reserve fund serves to bolster the town’s credit rating and generally enhance its financial stability. The annual report, which Wilber described as a “financial snapshot of the town,” is available at the town clerk’s office for inspection by the public.


Memorial bench. The board agreed to sign a contract with George Finsrud to rebuild the Jane Van De Bogart Memorial bench, which was damaged after its placement on the Village Green in honor of the longtime local political activist and onetime Woodstock councilwoman for whom it is named. Finsrud will receive $7,200 for his labor and the cost of materials; the fee corresponds to the amount that the town received in a settlement for the damage to the bench.


Land use attorney. The board voted unanimously to engage the services of Ron Pordy as land use attorney for the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals. Drayton Grant, who previously filled that role, is unable to continue. Pordy will also review contracts for the anticipated renovation of Town Hall. ++