Politicians in New Paltz sometimes position themselves as speaking for the “silent majority” of residents who do not attend public meetings because they agree what their elected officials are doing. That silent majority collectively decided it was time to speak out in favor of town water district 5 on Plains Road. Water district 5 would only serve residents of that neighborhood except during shutdowns of the Catskill Aqueduct, during which the 20 gallons per minute of flow could be ratcheted up to 400. New York City officials who agreed to pay for the project are signaling that they’re ready to pull out due to a protracted legal case stalling the plans.
The project began with a petition, which had signatures of property owners representing a majority of the assessed value in the proposed district. Those landowners came out in force last Thursday, outnumbering available chairs in the community center by a significant margin. Many of them spoke about how the quality of their well water has declined as new homes have been built, and characterizing this district as a one-time opportunity. Water districts must, by law, be self-sustaining; all costs must be borne by taxes on district properties or fees for the water itself. It would not be affordable without New York City to foot the bill.
Concerns over the potential build-out of 101 Plains Road only amplifies those concerns. Current zoning would allow for 40 homes, and that number could double if a local sewage treatment plant was built as part of the project.
Chris Harp was one of the few opposed who spoke at this meeting. He questioned why the project had taken on the urgency it has, since it was first proposed 23 years ago. A beekeeper by trade, Harp is concerned about the impact of losing the trees which provide a high percentage of the nectar bees eat. He warned about having a water source so close to a cemetery, and asserted that there have been no written guarantees about providing for district maintenance costs.
As it happens, there is such a written agreement. Maintenance of the district will be paid for with village tax dollars in perpetuity. Regarding the cemetery, according to council member Jeff Logan, three engineers each considered the 100-foot-thick layer of clay to be a sufficient safeguard. Logan also said that based on the plans in place, “I do not think we are going to lose any trees.”
Village officials have been told of an alternate plan to provide water during aqueduct shutdowns, but no notification to the town has arrived to seal the district’s fate. Many residents on and near Plains Road would like to see the district come to pass, but that appears to hinge upon whether the lawsuit can be settled in the very near future or not.