Following a lengthy public session where the Ulster Town Board heard from members of the public concerned about oversight on the proposed Niagara Bottling plant, the town board voted to deny both the Kingston Common Council and Woodstock Town Board involved agency status in the plant’s coming environmental review.
The board also voted to approve a much more-thorough “Type 2” or “positive declaration” review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
The unanimous decisions came during a regular meeting of the Town Board on Thursday, November 20, which was well-attended and which saw the majority of speakers prior to the decision urge the council to allow the neighboring communities to have an active role in the process. The Ulster Town Board, which has lead agency status in the review of the proposal, denied the requests based on legal advice said, Town Supervisor James Quigley III.
“This is not a debate,” said Quigley. “This is our decision based upon advice of counsel.”
Quigley said that he had a letter from the corporation counsel of the City of Kingston, Andrew Zweben, indicating they had no legal standing; The Kingston Common Council had hoped the need for the approval of the Kingston Board of Water Commissioners for Niagara to draw water from Cooper Lake reservoir in Woodstock would give be enough for them to have involved agency status, but Zweben felt otherwise. Quigley also cited similar conversations between the attorneys for Ulster and Woodstock.
“Quite frankly, reading the definitions of involved agencies in the regulations, that is the basis for our decision, based upon the advice of counsel,” Quigley said.
Had the Kingston and Woodstock bodies been granted “involved agency” status under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, universally referred to as “SEQR,” they would have obtained direct influence on the review.
The review process will begin with a scoping document produced by Niagara and subject to approval by the town board, which is acting as “lead agency” under SEQR and heading up the review, and other “involved agencies.” The document lays out issues to be studied and reviewed for inclusion with a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). Once the DEIS is accepted as complete, the public has a chance to review the document and weigh in. The Ulster town board, as lead agency, may require Niagara to respond to specific questions or criticisms compiled during the public comment period. The lead agency can also mandate formal hearings on issues raised during the public comment period. Once the lead agency accepts the environmental impact statement as complete, each involved agency will have an opportunity to lay out findings, including recommended changes to the project, before the review is complete.
“The Town Board is dedicating itself to an open and public process,” Quigley said. “There will be public scoping sessions and there will be public sessions on the environmental statements that result from the scoping document, as requested.”
Woodstock Town Supervisor Jeremy Wilber expressed disappointment with the board’s move, adding that town-on-town legal action was a possibility.
“We’d much rather have been inside the tent spitting out than outside the tent spitting in,” Wilber said, adding that while Woodstock has no permitting function nor was it providing funding for any of the project, and that that might not qualify it for involved agency status, there was also nothing in SEQR law that expressly disqualifies them either.
California-based Niagara Bottling is proposing the construction of a 414,800-square-foot plant at an estimated cost of $53 million to build off Boice’s Lane. The facility would reportedly open with a single production line of 41 jobs, expanding to 120 jobs after the facility is fully operational. The plant seeks permission to purchase up to 1.75 million gallons of water each day from the City of Kingston’s Cooper Lake reservoir, as well as truck in spring water from other local sources. A reported 50 total truck trips would occur when the facility is first up and running, with around 260 trips when completed. Once fully operational, the plant would also reportedly discharge an estimated 342,500 gallons of wastewater per day into the Esopus Creek and an additional 2,500 gallons daily through the town’s wastewater treatment plant.
While some speakers expressed concern about the environmental impact of the project, others were skeptical that the salaries of many of the future employees of the plant would be enough to live on in Ulster County.
Ulster County Legislator Don Gregorius, who represents Woodstock, said that the city and town deserve more involvement than what they’re getting.
“While hairs can be split in governmental language, the fact is that the Town of Woodstock is an affected party and should sit at the table as an affected party,” said Gregorius, who is also Majority Leader in the legislature. “It’s unfortunate that towns can’t work together outside of legal counsel.”
Ulster County Planning Director Dennis Doyle said he, as well as his boss, County Executive Mike Hein, also hoped for greater municipal oversight.
“It is the position of the administration, one of which I share, that as you do this it should be with the utmost inclusiveness, and that inclusiveness means those folks that are involved beyond the boundaries,” Doyle said. “The inclusiveness goes to the issues that are considered under that impact statement. I would ask that you reach out and recognize your neighbors in doing that and you work hard in making sure that their concerns are addressed and the concerns of others are addressed as well.”
Small town, big voice
Woodstock resident Rachel Marco-Havens expressed disappointment, both before the decision and after. “You have publicly mocked informed citizens who have asked you to follow the rule of law in inappropriate and inconsiderate ways,” she said. “Your dismissal of our concern is very disconcerting to me. If you really consider the water that quenches our municipalities as garbage that can be sold as a way to save a failing infrastructure, then I’m not sure that you, Mr. Quigley, and the Town of Ulster, are the right municipality to be handling the SEQR process as lead agent.”
“You are not being a very good neighbor,” Marco-Havens added. “This is going to be fun. We’re a small town with a big voice, and we’re going to use it.”
Town of Ulster resident Robert Barton said he was concerned about the proposed bottling plant being built on a floodplain, as well as what the facility’s production efforts might do to the air quality in the area.
“We don’t know the types of products, the material and the chemical makeup that’s going to be stored inside and outside of this plant,” Barton said. “And if a flood does happen in that area, water comes up and it goes in and it goes back out and will go into the Esopus Creek. The Town of Ulster wells are close by. How does that affect them?”
Jesse J. Smith contributed reporting to this story.