New Paltz Village Board member Don Kerr urges reconsideration of Wallkill River drinking water option

At last week’s meeting, the Village Board again discussed the option of using the Wallkill River as an alternate drinking water source during Catskill Aqueduct shutdowns. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

At last week’s meeting, the Village Board again discussed the option of using the Wallkill River as an alternate drinking water source during Catskill Aqueduct shutdowns. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The New Paltz Village Board’s June 24 meeting was the first for newly elected trustee Don Kerr, and he immediately made good on his campaign promise to be the “water guy” by pushing to have the option of using the Wallkill River as an alternate drinking water source during Catskill Aqueduct shutdowns put back on the table. Much of the meeting was devoted to Kerr’s arguments in favor of reviving consideration of the Wallkill as a “Plan B” to be used if Plains Road residents opposed to the use of the aquifer underlying their neighborhood succeed in blocking the creation of a new Water District via permissive referendum.

Kerr cited communications that he has had with representatives of the Pall Corporation, a company that is bidding for the contract to upgrade the village’s water treatment plant, claiming that they “should have no problem treating water from the Wallkill at no additional cost…The belief is that it can be done with no additional equipment.” He provided copies of an e-mail exchange in which Pall sales representative David Glovinsky wrote, “Based on our current understanding of the water quality of the alternate source, we do not anticipate any additional costs to the membrane system equipment.”


New mayor Tim Rogers countered that he had attended the same presentation from the Pall Corporation that Kerr had, and pointed out that it was questionable whether the treatment system being proposed could filter “emerging contaminants” in the river for which there are as yet no federal standards, such as discarded pharmaceutical products. Kerr dismissed that concern as merely a “yuck factor with a fancy name,” noting that Pall “treats river water all over New York State” and is prepared to conduct pilot tests necessary to determine whether the equipment already proposed for the treatment plant renovation can indeed cope with water from the Wallkill.

Rogers reminded the board that the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which manages the aqueduct system and has agreed to pay all the costs of accessing and distributing water from the Plains Road aquifer during the shutdown periods, “is not interested in funding a temporary surface water source.” “The DEP has been driving this,” Kerr countered. “There has not been enough emphasis on the village’s perspective.”

He proposed that the village request engineering consultants Brinnier & Larios to estimate the costs of pumping water from the Wallkill up to the village reservoir on Mountain Rest Road for filtration before being sent back down to the renovated water treatment plant. Kerr ventured a guess that the modifications to the system would cost less than one million dollars, which he said was an amount that the village could manage on its own if DEP refused to pay. Rogers disagreed, saying that he had heard from the village’s various engineers and hydrologists that the cost of pumping river water up the mountain and back down again and treating it would be “very expensive projects.”

Kerr then went on to urge that one last attempt be made to communicate with the various permitting agencies whose approval would be needed to utilize river water for drinking — among them the New York State Department of Health, Department of Environmental Conservation and US Army Corps of Engineers — to find out if there was any way that the permitting processes could be expedited. After considerable discussion the board voted to conduct “timely outreach” to the agencies to find out if there is any way that all required permits could be granted in time for the first shutdown in spring of 2017. The sole dissenting vote was trustee Tom Rocco, who said, “I don’t see the virtue in repeating what has already been done. This is not an investigation, but building an argument in favor of an alternative proposal.” “I thought the reason was just to understand the permitting process,” Rogers responded.

The board also voted — unanimously this time — to authorize a request to Brinnier & Larios for a quote of what it would cost to draw up a detailed price estimate for a treatment system, pumping station and piping for using Wallkill River water for drinking during shutdown periods, based on the new information provided by the Pall Corporation. Citing concerns about the costs to taxpayers, Mayor Rogers cautioned, “I’m not interested in pursuing this unless we get answers to the permitting question.”

Kerr also urged the board to prepare an official written response to the independent hydrologist’s report on the Plains Road aquifer prepared at the initiative and expense of residents there who oppose the project, raising the specter of legal liability if the neighbors’ association should sue the village. Rocco stated that the hydrology report “has no legal standing and requires no legal response on our part.” Deputy mayor Rebecca Rotzler pointed out that discussions of potential legal actions should properly take place in executive session, and the board ended up tabling the motion until the town attorney could be consulted on the matter.

In other matters before the board last week, a resolution to authorize an intermunicipal agreement with the Town of New Paltz was unanimously approved, shifting full responsibility onto the village for management of the Mill Brook Preserve lands, which lie partially within village boundaries and partially within the town. “Ongoing maintenance would fall squarely on the village,” said Rogers, adding that leaders of both municipalities had agreed that “the most prudent thing would be to have one entity responsible.”

Although development of a trail system is envisioned, the mayor characterized plans for the Preserve as a “very low-tech,” “undisturbed natural area” requiring “as little maintenance as possible.” Village planner David Gilmour agreed, saying that the Preserve would be a “low-impact hiking environment — not a playground or a park.” If a parking lot were to be established at a trailhead, the Village Department of Public Works would have to plow and otherwise maintain it, but according to Rogers, “Bleu [Terwilliger] is comfortable with that.”

Gilmour and Clean Water & Open Space Protection Commission former chair Marty Irwin are working on an application for a New York State grant that could potentially pay for development of a plan for the Preserve’s trail network, plank walkways through marshy areas, bridges, benches and other basic amenities, according to Rogers. He said that he also “spoken with someone who might be interested in becoming a benefactor, in creating an endowment” to help pay for maintenance of the Preserve.