Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley has asked the officials of the Coalition of Watershed Towns (CWT) to back him up in arguing that the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) should allow Phoenicia residents to receive New York City funds for replacing septic systems. “According to CWC policy,” said Stanley, “towns that were offered a sewer or community septic are not eligible to get septic rehab funding. Our question is why.”
The hamlet’s proposed sewer project was canceled in June after 15 years of planning due to insistence by some business people, residents, and town board members that the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was not providing enough information on costs and liabilities to move forward in a timely manner. Instead of granting yet another extension for the approval process, the DEP and CWC terminated the project.
Stanley presented his case at the August 20 CWT meeting, a monthly gathering of supervisors and board members of watershed towns. He observed that since Phoenicia has been highlighted as a priority area for addressing wastewater issues, even though the community decided not to go through with a sewer system, “it still remains a priority area, and we should be still eligible for septic funds. The CWT said they’d like to investigate more of the details and legal jargon. They did not seem to be against the proposal. They understood the case at hand.”
The policy, said Stanley, was established by CWC and is not part of the Memorandum of Agreement between New York City and the upstate towns. Because Phoenicia is the first municipality in the area to reject a sewer project, the hamlet is in a unique position with regard to the policy. “We’re not asking for anything special,” emphasized Stanley, “just that our residents be eligible to receive assistance like every other town in the watershed.”
He said the issue arose when a Phoenicia resident attempted to apply for reimbursement for replacement of a septic system and was refused on the basis of the exclusion clause. “If residents and business owners are not eligible for these funds, then how was Sweet Sue’s able to get funds for replacement?” Stanley said. “So a precedent has been set.” In May 2011, CWC reimbursed restaurant owner Sue Taylor for $17,922, 60% of the construction cost of her new septic system, after the cafe was closed down due to septic violations related to the 2011 flooding of Main Street.
Shandaken’s refusal was a ‘very reasonable decision’
While many members of the proposed sewer district were disgruntled by the public referendum that rejected the sewer in 2005 and the town board’s failure to press onward this spring, former town supervisor candidate and environmental activist Kathy Nolan feels the decision was rational.
Having attended a special meeting of the Shandaken town board at which the CWC’s septic policy was discussed, Nolan commented, “This underscores my problem with the sewer approach and my belief that the people of Phoenicia may have made a very reasonable decision.”