The State Department of Environmental Conservation has declined to take a lead role in reviewing a plan for a proposed water bottling plant in the Town of Ulster. The decision comes despite pleas from opponents of the plant who had hoped for what they believed would be a more rigorous review by the state agency. The Town of Ulster will now take on “lead agency status” in the State Environmental Quality Review Act-mandate process.
The proposed Niagara Bottling facility on Boice’s Lane near the former IBM plant would consume up to 1.75 million gallons each day at full build-out — a process expected to take about five years. The water would be purchased from the City of Kingston’s municipal water system; city water department officials say preliminary studies indicate the system could accommodate the company’s demands, while the influx of money would help replace or upgrade $16 million in ageing infrastructure without passing the costs on to current consumers.
Opponents of the plan, who worry that the water sale would threaten the city’s Town of Woodstock watershed or who simply oppose the bottled water industry on general principles have called on the DEC to assume control of the State Environmental Quality Review process. Most recently, the Public Safety and General Government Committee of the Kingston Common Council and the Kingston Conservation Advisory Committee voted on resolutions calling on DEC to assume lead agency status.
Those hopes appear to have been dashed by a letter dated Oct. 24 from DEC analyst Joseph R. Murray to Ulster Town Clerk Jason Cosenza. The letter outlines seven areas where the project might need additional approvals from various agencies. It concludes, “This letter serves to confirm that we have no objection to the Town of Ulster Board assuming lead agency status for this project. As such it will be the responsibility of the Town of Ulster Town Board to determine the significance of this action.”
The seven areas of potential concern identified by the agency include wastewater outfall, water quality certification, water service, stormwater, cultural resources and floodplains. In response to concerns about the ability of the ability of the city provide the needed quantity of water the letter simply says that the town should consider the impact of the plant running at full capacity and that if Kingston wished to take more water than its current permits call for, they would need to amend a DEC issued Water Withdrawal Permit. The Kingston Water Department has said that it could provide the water to Niagara without exceeding currently permitted limits.
Ulster Town Supervisor James Quigley III said that the letter was “standard” and did not raise any new or unexpected issues. “Almost everything in there has been discussed as a concern of this project from the very beginning,” said Quigley. “This just reinforces what we already perceived and I’m happy about that. There’s no surprises whatsoever.”
Quigley said that a town-led SEQRA process would be rigorous, but less susceptible to die-hard opponents of the proposal who could slow down a DEC-run proceeding. Quigley said that Niagara already had two alternate sites for the plant under consideration; had DEC opted for lead agency status, he said, the company likely would have abandoned the plan. Quigley said that opponents of the plan would have input into the SEQRA process, but the review would be guided by science — including the Kingston Water Department’s assessment of capacity.
“[Opponents of the plan see DEC review as] a magic bullet because DEC would probably take two or three years to complete the study,” said Quigley. “And frankly Niagara doesn’t have that kind of time.”
Rebecca Martin of the community action group KingstonCitizens.org, who has helped organize opposition to the Niagara proposal, said that she had hoped for a DEC-led review simply because the proposal was “multi-jurisdictional” involving Kingston water, a Town of Ulster site and a water source at Woodstock’s Cooper Lake. Martin said the group’s efforts would now turn to ensuring that the SEQRA process was thorough and area residents were aware of the potential impacts of the plan.
“This isn’t about killing a project,” said Martin. “This is about trying to create a fair process.”