Ever since the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement between New York City and its watershed communities 20 years ago, funding for community wastewater treatment plants has surged around the Catskills. The result has been new or rebuilt state-of-the-art sewer systems in communities ranging in size from Margaretville to Lexington, with Phoenicia the only established community center to date not taking what was originally a deal to trade economic development handouts for stricter watershed regulations.
In the Town of Olive, money went to build a system in Boiceville, where the center for the Onteora school system sits, along with the Route 28 corridor’s largest supermarket. In 2007, during a periodic update of the legal structures beneath the MOA and Catskill Watershed Corporation’s existence, it was determined that the NYC Department of Environmental Protection would study the need for a second Olive system in Shokan. The DEP submitted a plan for that study in October, 2013, which the state Department of Health amended and okayed the following year.
The city released the results of that study last summer, recommending that “the majority of sites in the Hamlet of Shokan are suitable for on-site wastewater systems and will be adequately addressed by existing septic repair programs.” Why no community wastewater treatment like Boiceville, or the small hamlets of Shandaken, Conesville, Claryville and Halcottsville for that matter? The 16 page DEP study included scientific water sample results and a description of the 3.9 square mile area centered on Route 28 and including several mini-malls along the highway, older housing developments to either side of it, and various small businesses including stores and restaurants as being “outside a valley and developed later than many other communities” and hence benefiting “from somewhat larger lot sizes than some of the historic centers in the watershed.”
The town, as well as the state departments of Health and Environmental Conservation, plus the federal Environmental Protection Agency, objected.
The agencies all determined that New York City’s study was not “adequate” in terms of supporting its own conclusion, adding that the proximity of Shokan to the Ashokan Reservoir “warrants an assurance that wastewater from this community is being adequately managed to ensure the protection of the City’s water supply in the future.”
The town, according to supervisor Sylvia Rozzelle, felt that the city’s study failed to take into account the fact that the Boiceville community, where they have built a wastewater treatment system, had become prone to so much flooding in recent storms that planning was now underway, with state and federal backing, to move some of its businesses elsewhere.
“We’re looking at Shokan as the new business center for Olive,” Rozzelle said in a recent interview. “Boiceville floods too much.”
Execute contract changes
Last November, the state Department of Health sent the city Department of Environmental Protection a letter listing deficiencies in the City’s study and demanding that they once again pursue development and installation of an appropriate wastewater management solution for Shokan. Moreover, DOH’s Chief of NYC Watershed Section, Bureau of Water Supply Protection Pamela Young set requirements: By December 31 of this year, the DEP would need to “execute contract changes” with the Catskill Watershed Corporation which will “commit sufficient funding to complete the community wastewater project for Shokan;” an engineering study for such a system would have to be completed by the end of June, 2018; and a complete wastewater system finished for Shokan by July of 2020.
Reacting to all that news, Rozzelle reiterated that “we had little to do with it here in Olive, other than feeling we deserved and needed that system.” She added that unlike Boiceville, she didn’t think a referendum would be required to okay such a system on the hamlet’s part.