Opinion: Ulster bottling plant an environmental issue for Saugerties

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Should Saugerties care about the proposed town of Ulster Niagara Bottling plant?

The plant will be creating new jobs, which we need. However, when it is fully built, it will also be disposing 345,000 gallons per day of wastewater. The town of Ulster wastewater treatment plant would receive 2,500 gallons of this wastewater daily; the remainder would be discharged into the Lower Esopus Creek, which runs through the town and village of Saugerties before going into the Hudson River. The question is: What’s in the wastewater? How does Saugerties address the environmental concerns that would allow the plant to be built?

The issues of the amount of water being used for bottling, the use of public water for private gain, and whether or not people should be drinking bottled water are outside the jurisdiction of Saugerties. The town of Ulster is the primary “owner” of the project. The Kingston Water Department will make a determination as to the feasibility of water usage. The only reason Saugerties has a chance at having a voice in the matter is because of the potential environmental impact.


Niagara Bottling is the largest privately owned bottling company in the United States. It is a family-owned business. Contrary to rumors, it is not owned by Nestle (which owns Poland Spring), nor does it look like they are a target for takeover. Their headquarters is in California and they have 14 bottling locations in the United States, with Allentown, PA being the closest one to New York. Two more sites are indicated for 2014, one in Georgia and one in Wisconsin.

Niagara Bottling makes the plastic bottles it uses. All of their bottles are produced using PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic. High-Density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic is used to make caps. Niagara Bottling has won awards for reducing the amount of plastic used in their bottles and the bottles are 100 percent recyclable. The bottles are made by putting the plastic inside a metal mold. The exterior of the mold is cooled with water in a closed loop system that re-circulates the water. From my reading, PET bottles do not appear to biodegrade but are recyclable.

In doing research on the production of these bottles, it was unclear (at least to me) as to what is in the wastewater used in production. Riverkeeper and other environmental groups have called for a full SEQRA review (State Environmental Quality Review Act). The town of Ulster will be the lead agency on the project and has agreed to the full SEQRA review. Hopefully this review will reveal what’s in the wastewater and its impact on the Esopus.

The Woodstock Town Board has hired an attorney to make sure Woodstock’s interests are taken into account during the town of Ulster’s review of the project. Saugerties could benefit from having its interests protected in the review, too. Whether a lawyer or an environmental chemist needs to be hired is unknown. Here are two of the questions that need to be asked (which come from Dr. Ron Ney, Ph.D. during a Niagara Bottling review in Arizona): What safety measures will be put in place to prevent phthalates, plastic particles (nano-particles) and dioxins from getting into rivers, groundwater and air? Will any chemical releases endanger children, adults, pets and wildlife?

The environmental impact of the wastewater is the primary issue to me. Other environmental issues have been mentioned in the press, like the increase in truck traffic and the amount of paving material needed and its runoff into the Lower Esopus. The truck traffic will be about the same as when IBM was in the town of Ulster. New paving materials are now available that are more permeable, which may address the runoff issue.

One condition I would like to add is for Niagara Bottling to also build a recycling plant for the water bottles. They are 100 percent recyclable, so why not have the people who produce them also be responsible for recycling them? Maybe the recycled plastic can be used in 3D printing.

If the Saugerties environmental concerns can be addressed, Niagara Bottling should be welcomed as a new employer to our region.

Beth Murphy’s column appears monthly.