New York City Department of Environmental Protection officials have reached an agreement in principle under which the “whole [water] district 5 would go away completely,” according to New Paltz Village Mayor Tim Rogers. Instead, city money would pay for water exploration and metering upgrades. To facilitate shutting down the Catskill Aqueduct for needed repairs, water would be pumped from the Delaware Aqueduct during those periods using a system that has yet to be built.
Water district 5, part of the last version of a backup supply during shutdown periods, has been mired in the courts because many of the Plains Road residents who would be directly affected don’t want to give up their wells or allow the work in their neighborhood. DEP money would be used to purchase the property at 101 Plains Road, from where water would be pumped; the district would provide for the affected town residents and also serve as part of the backup supply for the village. Water from another potential source, the Turk property along Paradies Lane, failed tests and was ruled out as part of the solution last year, leading village officials to threaten to back out of maintaining water district 5 over worries that there wouldn’t be enough water during the shutdowns if, for example, a water main broke.
The agreement Rogers described includes $2.3 million for primary source exploration, which could lead to reduced dependence on the aqueduct water. The cost of that water continues to rise, one result of which is that the water district must borrow money to make improvements because the revenue is almost entirely spoken for. Sourcing more water locally has been an area of agreement among members of this board, although they frequently don’t see eye to eye when it comes to achieving that goal. This money could change the tenor of that conversation.
Rogers said that $375,000 in DEP funds would be provided for meter-related upgrades, including billing software, new meters for users outside of the village, and nine master meters to replace the single-building meters on the SUNY New Paltz campus. Other than the rising cost of Catskill water, Rogers said the biggest financial pressure on the water system overall is non-revenue water, which includes anything used at village facilities or by firefighters, but also anything resulting from undetected leaks in the aging pipes. Bills will also start arriving monthly, in the belief that the extra cost will be offset by consumers becoming more conscious of their usage and conserving more water.
Town supervisor Neil Bettez is expecting this may be formalized. “I called our contact person there and although he wouldn’t confirm anything, he said expect a press release next week,” which he believes will confirm it, “but until I get anything official from DEP I have to assume otherwise. It doesn’t look good, that’s for sure.” That’s because the early termination clause reads in part that it can be cancelled if “any litigation has been filed that would . . . adversely affect the town’s ability to fulfill the obligations herein,” which the court case prevents. A settlement offer including 20 years’ free water was declined by the plaintiffs. The only way town officials are assured their legal costs are covered out of DEP coffers is to settle, or win.
The mayor would like to see the estimated $25-40,000 spent from the town treasury to defend against those lawsuits thus far reimbursed. Figuring out “how to make the town whole” is “the right thing to do,” Rogers said.
Bettez is on board. “I agree it is the right thing to do, and Tim, the DEP and I have spent considerable time trying to come up with a solution that makes the town whole when this thing falls apart,” he advised via e-mail. “Although I am hopeful it will work out, until any agreement that explicitly says this is signed, I am skeptical.” Even if it does, Bettez is disappointed that the town won’t be purchasing 101 Plains Road (on the DEP’s dime) if the water district falls through. He said that 40 single homes — more with an on-site sewer treatment plant — could be put on that property if it’s ultimately purchased by a developer; if the town acquires it from owner Dave Roehrs, he’s agreed to put in a soccer field as part of the deal. “Although I haven’t spoken with Mr. Roehrs to see what his plans are, I doubt they include a free soccer field for the town,” he said.
The only portion of the proposed agreement which gave Rogers pause was a clause calling for “good-faith negotiations” for a new water-purchase agreement. After the village attorney reviews the document, a special meeting will likely be called to act upon it.