A room full of incensed citizens presented the town board with a petition signed by 800 Woodstockers asking the council to hire an environmental lawyer to advise the town in its quest to become an ‘involved agency’ in the town of Ulster’s SEQRA review of the proposed Niagara Bottling plant that would use city of Kingston water, drawn from Cooper Lake.
And while the town board as a whole is amenable to the concept, supervisor Jeremy Wilber revealed another direction in which the town may seek to become involved in the process.
In a letter addressed to Woodstock’s representative on the county legislature, Majority Leader Don Gregorius, Wilber wonders what Ulster County’s position is on the whole business and points out its involvement.
“For instance,” Wilber wrote, “the Niagara proposal is hinged on a determination made by a County entity, Ulster County Community College, that the Niagara proposal qualifies for Start-Up New York tax incentives. How was this determination made? Who or what agency made this determination? It is important for the Town of Woodstock to know in order to understand it, and if not persuaded by the logic to appeal it. Please let us know as soon as possible who or what agency of the County made this determination.
“The silence of the Ulster County Planning Board on this issue is also of concern. Please, on behalf of your constituents, make a thorough investigation and report on the deliberations on this matter by the UCPB. Please report to us as soon as possible especially if you should find out there have been no deliberations…”
Reached Wednesday afternoon, Gregorius said he had just finished reading the letter, but that he had spoken with Wilber about it.
“I understand the nature of it and reason for it,” he said. “I agree with his concerns. I understand the need for this. They’re not lead agency, they’re not involved. They’re just an ‘interested party.’ I would add a new category that they don’t have…affected party. That sums this up. The water comes from here and it’s going to someplace else and impacting the residents of Woodstock. We need to have a seat at the table in the discussions. I will be contacting the [county] executive about it. Depending upon what that discussion is, we’ll move forward.”
Regarding the concerns about the inclusion of the project in the Start-Up New York tax incentives, Gregorius was in the dark. “I don’t know of anybody involved in the discussions. These are questions I’m going to ask. I don’t know that the legislature itself has a position on this. I will try to get to the bottom of it, try to find a way to have an impact on it. We’ve been made aware of this and are very concerned about it. I’ll use my position to get information that may be helpful to the town of Woodstock. The ultimate goal is having a seat at the table.”
A terrible deal…
The town board heard from Woodstock Land Conservancy board chairman Kevin Smith, who said that the organization was partnering with the Riverkeeper organization in utilizing engineering resources and that “we have to keep our eyes on the prize here…” as they seek to become involved in the process. Debra Dewan, who called herself an “eco-evangelist” and serves on the board of the Catskill Watershed Corporation and on the advisory board of Riverkeeper, urged people to call the DEC Region III office and ask them to reconsider becoming lead agency in the SEQRA review. “The action doesn’t talk about the acquisition of water, about where it comes from…”
Former town board member Liz Simonson, member of the group called Save Cooper Lake, that presented the petition to the town board, told of her Lake Hill well running dry in 2012. “The sale of water is personal,” Simonson said. “It not only threatens our water supply, but the value of our homes.” And she pointed out that the water to be taken “is not for human necessity, but to fix a crumbling infrastructure.” She said that Woodstock has “taken a lot of pains over the years to protect this resource. Kingston should have been bonding for 25 years, or saving up to fix its own crumbling infrastructure.”
And Richard Buck, also of Save Cooper Lake said that “Niagara stands to make $1 billion a year and Kingston under $1 million. It’s a terrible deal. They’re giving it away…”
Wilber said that he had already spoken to the attorney the group suggested.
“We welcome the petition,” he said. “It’s an effective way to communicate with us.” He suggested that perhaps an joint effort with the city of Kingston would work, “so everybody isn’t just running off to have lawyers.”
But he said that the town would do what is necessary.
“Here we are with the least to gain,” said Wilber. “We get nothing but are faced with potential impacts. There’s just something wrong with their whole system, that the town that gets nothing has to reach into its own pocket. We will, if we have to.” And he joked about a citizen effort. “After you’ve bought a brick (a fundraiser for the Community Center renovation), you can buy a quart.”