At a special meeting on Tuesday, May 15, the Shandaken Town Board decided to apply to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for an extension on the town’s grant for building a sewer system in Phoenicia. Alan Rosa, Executive Director of the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC), was shocked by the board’s failure, last week, to okay a public hearing for a referendum on establishing a sewer district.
“The board felt, and I agree, that it wasn’t right to ask the public to vote on a sewer district when we don’t know yet what it’s going to cost us, how much of the district the city is going to pay for,” said Shandaken Supervisor Rob Stanley, who was on vacation last week when the board voted 3-1 to table the resolution for a hearing. The town has been trying to arrange a discussion with the DEP and other involved agencies to negotiate for extra funding, above the $15.8 million grant that is being whittled away since the sewer planning process began in 1997.
The current grant is enough to cover a limited area of Phoenicia’s water district, but a more extensive buildout would be desirable, and the town wants New York City to pay for it. Some Phoenicia businessmen, including restaurant owner Mike Ricciardella, want the city to take on operation and maintenance costs. Citizens have requested that the city make sure the town will not be liable if the system fails. Stanley also pointed out that the system was proposed and funded before the three recent major floods, and there would be an added cost to add flood control technology that would enable residents to continue to use the sewer in a flood situation.
“The DEP gave us a short extension after the last flood,” said Stanley. “I expect they’ll be able to give us a few more months to hammer out these details before we put the sewer district to a vote.”
The CWC has been assisting the town in determining what kind of system would be best for Phoenicia and has emphasized staying within the August 6 deadline the city had set for making a sewer district as a prerequisite for continuing with the grant. The proposed May 22 public hearing would have given just enough time to stay within the legal timeframe for a referendum.
“There’s no way they can meet the deadline now,” said Rosa. “The Town of Shandaken and the City of New York have a contract. We were brought in after several years to try to help Shandaken move the project forward. I guess we have failed to get the Town of Shandaken to move it forward.”
When asked whether he approves of the town’s course of action in seeking a deadline, Rosa added, “That’s between Shandaken and New York City now. I can’t say I agree with it.”
“The CWC felt it didn’t matter that the costs haven’t been established, since we still wouldn’t be committed to the build,” noted Stanley. “The referendum is just to set up a district, not to put in a sewer. But we feel it’s important to get the figures down first before we put anything in front of the public.”++