Many Plains Road residents in New Paltz are still not convinced that the water district proposed for their neighborhood would actually benefit them, as the law seems to require. During last week’s continued public hearing on water district 5, they questioned the Town Board as to who would benefit most, invoked the specter of Flint, Michigan, and maintained that the rush to create a water district would leave them with little choice but to hook up, as their wells are likely to be ruined. While their neighbors speaking in favor of the project were fewer in number, they pointed out that the petition to create the district represents many more people than attended that night.
“SEQR says residents must benefit” from the water district, said Sue Weber, referring to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. “I am not. I have a new well and filtration system and will be charged for water. I can’t opt out; our well was adversely affected during the testing. Opting out is a pipe dream.”
Gray Rice pointed out that the decision would affect residents “for the rest of our lives.” She acknowledged that there is an urgency created by the plans to shut down the Catskill Aqueduct for several ten-week periods for maintenance, but called the idea of creating a water district to address that concern “unwarranted.” Of particular concern to her is the impact on her bee farm: not only would they be paying for the water needed to maintain it, but the construction would lead to the damage or outright removal of neighborhood trees that the bees depend upon. “What happens in times of below-average precipitation?” she asked, wondering if the aquifer can even support a district.
Testing continues to be a concern. Ted Cryer was skeptical that the 72-hour tests performed were adequate to demonstrate that the aquifer can support a flow of 400 gallons per minute for ten weeks, as would be needed. Donna Liebman wondered if board members had read the report prepared by hydrogeologist Paul Ruben, which calls into question the sustainability of the plan.
One neighbor who supports the district dismissed several of those concerns, saying that “public benefit” refers to the public in general, not the individuals who live in the district; he also compared the 72-hour pumping tests to the sort of stress test a doctor might give to a patient.
The concern voiced by Carol Cryer was over the plan to provide free water to the new district members for five to six years, which she considers “inadequate.” Instead, she’s seeking up to 20 years of free water as just compensation, unless the home is sold or transferred to someone other than a surviving spouse.
Gail Friedman said that water is a civil right, and referred to water problems in both Flint, Michigan and Hoosick Falls in upstate New York as reason for her concern that it’s a right about to be violated after only paying “lip service” to alternatives. She concluded with an ominous statement: “It may appear that it’s over, but it’s not over.”
Village trustee Don Kerr, who campaigned for that position on his expertise in water treatment, reminded Town Board members that there remains at least one alternative to a water district, should Friedman’s words prove true. “Our drinking water standards are the envy of the world,” he said, and the village would need no capital improvements to its water treatment plant to ensure that Wallkill River water “comes out crystal clear.” All that would be required is a new pumping station, at far less cost to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection than the proposed water district. “If the opposition to plan A is successful, there is a plan B,” he advised.
It wasn’t until after the board closed the public hearing that things really got tense. Town engineer David Clouser was on hand with a proposed resolution to declare that the environmental impact of the water district is not significant enough to reach the thresholds that would require a full environmental impact statement. That discussion was not on the agenda which was posted online, and only added by voice vote at the meeting itself. Opponents to the project were enraged. Donna Liebman said during public comment that such an action echoed the “disrespectful” treatment of the prior Town Board, which had gained a reputation for being unreceptive to residents’ feedback. Carol Cryer was so upset by the decision that she was unable to complete her own comment. Board members were told that a number of neighbors who were specifically interested in attending for the final step of the SEQR process had depended upon the accuracy of the agenda posted online.
Clouser nevertheless was allowed to explain how the project was being approached. While it should be classified as a Type 2 action under the SEQR law, which would presume no environmentally significant impacts, it’s instead being deemed “unlisted,” a more flexible classification, and the more stringent Type 1 requirements are being applied. However, as he pointed out, the “thresholds are very large,” and not reached in any category. The only question that comes close is the number of schools and day care facilities within 1,500 feet — there are five — but Clouser said that the primary concern in that case would be noise and such noise would be temporary.
Deputy Supervisor Dan Torres said that the matter was not intentionally left off the agenda, and suggested tabling the matter until next week so interested residents could attend if they so desired.
“Does someone feel they have additional questions that would change how you feel?” asked council member Jeff Logan.
“It’s more about the public,” Torres said. Marty Irwin agreed, saying that it was appropriate to make Clouser’s information available to the public prior to a board discussion and vote.
“I applaud you for doing that,” said Ted Cryer, adding that “people have been asking about SEQR.”
“It’s a process that has been going on for three months,” pointed out Logan, referring to the entire period during which board members have been looking at environmental impacts. Cryer may have been using the term to refer specifically to the vote on environmental significance.