What sewage treatment plant? That was the response of the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education after learning of Town Board-approved plans apparently already in progress to build a sewage treatment plant directly adjacent to the athletic fields at the high school and on land owned by New Paltz Town Board member Kevin Barry. According to School Board member Steven Greenfield at the New Paltz BOE’s regular meeting on Wednesday, December 3, the first they heard of the proposal was when town engineer David Clouser reached out to School Board member Tim Rogers last month to ask him if the school district “would like to connect with” a sewage treatment plant to be located on the southern border of the high school property. “This was pretty unexpected information,” said Greenfield. So in his role as head of the Facilities Committee, he asked for a meeting with Clouser, which took place shortly before Thanksgiving.
At this meeting, according to Greenfield, Clouser told him that the project has already received “some form of preliminary DEC approval” and that the funding was secured and the Town Board in negotiation with the property owner over purchase of the land. “I was as surprised as you could possibly be by this,” said Greenfield. “Obviously nobody has notified us. There’s been no information from the New Paltz Town Board about this.”
Clouser gave him a site plan at the meeting, as well, Greenfield said, showing it to the other board members. (A PDF of that plan is currently posted on the school district website through a link on the home page at www.newpaltz.k12.ny.us.)
Greenfield said that he contacted a member of the Town Board in order to find out additional information, but that the (unnamed) Town Board member also knew nothing about the sewage treatment plant. “So this plan has been developed almost to the point of purchase of this property in, seemingly, some kind of private way,” said Greenfield, “because not even all of the Town Board members knew of it going on.” He said he researched a year’s worth of Town Board agendas as well, without finding mention of a sewage treatment plant on any.
Before the meeting ended, the Board of Ed drafted and passed a resolution of opposition to the siting of the sewage treatment plant on grounds of health, safety and the welfare of students and staff, citing among numerous hazards the disruptive smell and the dangers of chemicals involved being in close proximity to children.
The BOE called upon the town to be “transparent, responsible and ethical in its deliberations and decision making by including the board and the school community in the dialogue and discussion of the location of the sewage treatment plant” and to discontinue its plans until the School Board and community can “study the impact of the town’s plan and to determine alternative locations that do not impact the students and staff in any of the schools of the New Paltz Central School District.” They requested that the town provide all environmental studies, engineering studies, site plans and specifications along with alternative sites considered as well as any resolutions, local laws or ordinances adopted by the town related to the siting and operation of the sewage treatment plant.
The response from town supervisor Susan Zimet was swift. In response to receiving the School Board’s resolution from school superintendent Maria Rice, Zimet replied that the actions taken by the School Board “yet again show a lack of due diligence and further undermines the credibility of the School Board’s work in the community.” She said the claims that the Town Board had not been “transparent, responsible and ethical in deliberations” are unfounded. “Even more disconcerting is your failure to contact me to verify the accusations of your assertions about my Town Board before making these statements. In our opinion, your actions and that of the School Board have been reckless and designed to slander Town Board members.”
Zimet stated that information about the project “has been in the public domain for the last 25 years,” citing a May 24, 2012 Town Board resolution to “complete the work necessary to file the shovel-ready application for a feasibility study for the installation of sewer infrastructure on South Putt Corners Road.” That resolution was based on the town’s 1995 Comprehensive Master Plan and a Generic Environmental Impact statement done that year on the South Putt Corners Road site, she added. “On November 19, 2012, the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency provided the town with written notice of approval of the grant application for funding in the amount of $4,025 to complete our feasibility study. Shortly thereafter the town engineer began the fact-finding portion of the study beginning in 2013.”
Zimet said it is “insulting at best” to accuse the Town Board of not protecting the health, safety and welfare of residents and that they are doing their best to “bring appropriate development to our community with the goal of bringing tax ratables to help relieve the shared financial burdens we all face.”
So how did all of this miscommunication begin?
Zimet claimed that “a representative from the New Paltz School District” (unnamed) contacted the developers of the Wildberry [waterpark] project about the availability of sewage capacity for the high school. “It was implied that the existing septic system serving the school was deficient and the school was looking for a possible alternative,” she wrote. Inquiries by town engineer Clouser to the School Board about their sewer needs and flow rates went unanswered, she said. The sewage study being done in connection with the Wildberry project is incomplete “and upon completion will be presented in a public meeting to the Town Board.”
But at the Board of Education’s December 3 meeting, before Zimet wrote her response, they discussed the idea that someone from the district had contacted the developers of the Wildberry project, Greenfield having heard that same piece of information from Clouser that someone from the district had contacted the Wildberry project developers. “Why would someone from our district contact a private developer about the possibility of hooking up our sewage to a proposed treatment plant that they, Wildberry, might be building for their proposed water park?” he said. “We’ve done major improvements on our septic system here at the school quite recently and it’s functioning very well, so I can’t imagine why such an inquiry would happen.”
Assistant Superintendent for Business Richard Linden confirmed that the septic system at the high school was renovated and its capacity increased just three years ago. “It’s fine,” he said.
And at least one Town Board member has gone on the record saying he was as much in the dark about the sewage treatment plant project as the School Board was. In communication from Town Councilman Daniel Torres to Zimet, made available to this newspaper, Torres states that he was not informed about the project “or any part of the development” of the plans for the site.
As of press time, Zimet said she will not call a special meeting to answer the allegations of the School Board, but will discuss the matter at the next regular Town Board meeting on Thursday, December 18.
The documents pertaining to the sewage treatment plant submitted thus far to the town are posted at https://www.townofnewpaltz.org/town-board/pages/current-docs-on-s-putt-corners-sewer-feasibility-study.
The school district’s resolution and videotaped discussion of the board’s objections to the sewer treatment plant siting are at https://www.newpaltz.k12.ny.us/Page/7737. The next Board of Education meeting will be Wednesday, December 17.