Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley III said this week he has not been in contact with a California water bottling company since it missed a deadline to produce a key document for an environmental review of its proposed production facility in Lake Katrine. But, Quigley said, it is likely the company simply needed more time to sort through a blizzard of objections, and at least one detailed hydrologic report produced by opponents of the plan.
Niagara Bottling wants to build a sprawling bottling facility on a vacant industrial site adjacent to the former IBM complex. The plant would bottle a maximum to 1.75 million gallons a day of Cooper Lake water purchased from the Kingston Water Department, as well as water trucked in from local springs.
The Ulster Town Board is serving as the “lead agency,” charged with guiding a state-mandated environmental review of the project and its potential impacts. On November 20, when the town officially assumed lead agency status, the board laid out a suggested timeline for the review process. That timeline called for Niagara to produce a “scoping document” by December 20; the company later requested a one month extension. But, as of January 28, the company had not produced the report. Dutchess-based Chazen Companies is the firm drawing up the report on Niagara’s behalf.
The scoping document lays out potential negative impacts and areas of concern and suggests studies and analyses to be conducted as part of the environmental review. Those studies then go into a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). Once the DEIS is complete, the public has a chance to weigh in and the company must respond to its input in a final environmental impact statement. A number of environmental groups have raised objections to the project based, in part, on fear that such a massive drawdown of Kingston water will harm the Cooper Lake watershed and prevent future commercial and residential development. Earlier this month, one of the groups, Woodstock-based SaveCooperLake.org, produced a report by an independent hydrologist suggesting that the Niagara plant, running at full capacity, would likely push the city’s water system above its safe daily output.
Quigley said this week that the detailed objections raised by those opposed to the plan likely caused Niagara to take more time to produce the scoping document.
“Given the amount of information generated by the opposition,” Quigley said, “Niagara would be irresponsible to generate a scoping document that does not take into account the questions raised.”
Not a real deadline
Quigley added that the “deadline” for the report was simply a suggested timeline produced by the town board. There is no hard and fast requirement, he said, for the company to produce the document by a given date. But, he said, the environmental review could not move forward until the document was submitted. Quigley said he had not heard from Niagara officials and he did not know when the scoping document would be complete.
Niagara’s proposal was welcomed by local economic development officials when it was first proposed, with no fanfare, back in April 2014. Since the plan became common knowledge in September, however, the proposal has suffered a number of setbacks. Last month, the company failed in its bid for more than $10 million in state economic development funds to offset $54 million in construction costs for the new plant. Meanwhile the company is still waiting to hear from state officials whether they will be included in Start-Up NY, an incentive program that pairs new businesses with colleges and offers significant tax breaks for both the company and its employees.
In the Town of Ulster, meanwhile, officials are waiting for evidence of Niagara’s continued interest in the project — a $25,000 infusion of cash into an escrow account used to pay consultants selected by the town to carry out environmental studies, legal work and other professional services related to composing the environmental impact statement. An initial payment of $10,000 into the fund had been depleted, Quigley said, and he had recently requested additional funds from the company.
“Niagara has a requirement to pay the town’s [state Environmental Quality Review Act] expenses,” said Quigley. “We need to make sure we can pay them before we move forward with anything.”