Woodstock supervisor Jeremy Wilber announced October 14, that he had sent a letter to the Department of Environmental Conservation urging them to take over as lead agency in the State Environmental Quality Review of plans for the proposed city of Kingston water sale to Niagara Bottling, which seeks to build a manufacturing plant on part of the former IBM campus in the Town of Ulster. Kingston is proposing to sell up to 1.75 million gallons of water a day from Cooper Lake to the bottling plant.
Kingston’s water supply originates in Woodstock, traveling from Cooper Lake through pipes to a filtration plant and holding reservoir on Sawkill Road.
As of now, the Town of Ulster is lead agency for the or SEQRA review for the construction of the bottling plant, but interested parties have up to 30 days to challenge that authority, Wilber said. But Wilber believes that the water draw and bottling plant construction should fall under different SEQRA reviews as they are separate matters.
While many, including Town Board members, are concerned about the implications of plant making plastic water bottles and Kingston selling water to another town, Wilber wants to avoid mixed messages. He doesn’t want to make it look like Woodstock is opposed because they “protest everything. To me, our main concern is the water…I’m not saying I’m not sympathetic to that,” Wilber said of the plastic bottle fervor. “But our main concern is the rights to the watershed.”
A 1929 agreement gives Woodstock the right to draw water from above and below the Cooper Lake intakes and to tap in to the Kingston water main.
Councilman Ken Panza noted the 1929 decision has restrictions on water flow, but is concerned nothing is in place to measure it.
“I have strong personal feelings against them using our water,” said Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli. “I’m really reluctant to give it away.”
Magarelli noted the 1929 decision gives the town the right to 500,000 gallons per day and is concerned it might not be there if the town ever needed it. She is also concerned about the implications to the town’s vast aquifer, which is partially fed by Cooper Lake.
Deputy Supervisor Laura Ricci questioned why, given the aquifer concerns, the town couldn’t assert lead agency status. Because of the longstanding agreement, the town only has standing as an interested party, Wilber responded.
The board unanimously approved a resolution in favor of urging the DEC take over as lead agency.
“The Town of Woodstock, with the greatest sense of urgency, requests the DEC to protect Woodstock’s existing rights in its watersheds as enshrined in the 1929 and 1954 decisions of the state agency precursor of the DEC, and to assure us that the protocols the DEC recently required of Woodstock to extend its water service to our own residents shall be no less stringent than the protocols required of the Kingston Water Board to expand its water service to another municipality,” Wilber said in the letter to the DEC.
Kingston Common Council members may seek the DEC’s participation in the review also.
Library and town board reax
Woodstock Library officials may have been further along in the planning of a proposed $1.6 million annex than they conveyed when they sought a memorandum of understanding from the Town Board, according to recently obtained documents.
John Ludwig, former chairman of the town’s planning board, and a staunch opponent of the annex as proposed, presented findings to the Town Board on October 14. Ludwig based them on a Freedom of Information request for documents relating to the annex that were part of library board meetings that led to June 11 and July 9, 2013, presentations to the Town Board.
Library trustees had seen a 55-page report from Joel Sanders Architect with two possibilities for an annex design, Scheme A and a larger Scheme B. At its June 3 meeting, a week before the initial presentation to the Town Board, the library board approved the smaller Scheme A, calling for the two-story building with an 1,800-square-foot footprint. Though several architectural drawings were provided to the library board, none were presented to the Town Board.
At the July 9 meeting at which the Town Board approved the memorandum of understanding, or MOU, the library was close to finishing the “Schematic Design” phase, but again, no drawings were provided to the Town Board.
The MOU was drafted to establish the library’s status as a separate municipality with the authority to bypass normal planning and zoning review.
“The documents I’m presenting here tonight were apparently left back at the office when they came to you that night,” Ludwig said.
Ludwig cited a recent email from library board President Stuart Auchincloss stating the project information was public at that point.
“Certainly the entire Annex project has been conducted with much more publicity than the minimum required by law for a municipal body. The Library has distributed press releases at every important decision point and a few in between,” states the email.
Ludwig filed a Freedom of Information request for any such press releases and was told by Library Director Amy Raff that none existed for that time period.
Though Raff briefly mentioned at the June 11 Town Board meeting that the project had expanded from its original 1,000 square feet to the current 1,800 square-foot footprint, she offered only a broad explanation of the proposal.
The chosen annex design by Joel Sanders Architect includes a 2,050 square feet of space on an 1,800-square-foot footprint at the site of the former Woodstock Laundromat across Library Lane that includes a 65-seat meeting space that can be divided into smaller areas, a “maker-space” workshop, two unisex bathrooms, a small kitchen, storage room, front and rear decks and a roof deck
In recent months, Supervisor Jeremy Wilber has said repeatedly the MOU does not cover anything beyond the original laundromat footprint, at one point adding “I don’t know how I could be any clearer.”
The first time the Town Board heard of the Sanders design was at the library’s August 12, 2013, public hearing, said Councilman Ken Panza in a recent email to the library board.
“One reason the MOU does not extend to the Joel Sanders design is that the Town Board had no knowledge of the Sanders design before August 12th,” he said in the email.
Auchincloss, in response to Ludwig’s presentation, said no design was offered to the Town Board because “none was called for.” He said drawings and details were “not relevant” because the library’s exemption from the town zoning law is based on its status as a municipality and does not depend on what the library is planning to build.
Further, Auchincloss argued the design was nowhere near final at that point.
“During the design process there are several steps of ‘approval’ of designs as the architect presents ideas and the client reacts to them,” Auchincloss said. “In the case of the Library, those interim reactions were not the same kind of ‘approval’ as the board gave to the Annex design at its meeting on November 20, 2013, when it ‘approved the plan.’”
Councilman Ken Panza said Ludwig’s presentation serves to confirm perceptions of mistrust of the library board and its handling of the annex.
“John’s documents seem to confirm the Library has purposely withheld its decisions about the annex from the public,” Panza said.
Councilman Jay Wenk missed the presentation because of prior commitments, but said it looks like the Library Board “acted deceitfully toward the Town Board.” Wenk added he wanted to fully review Ludwig’s information and is interested in hearing the response from library officials.
But Wilber so far is giving them the benefit of the doubt.
“When all is done the Library Board will act with the integrity expected of them,” Wilber said.