Despite a 2019 state investigation, conditions have not improved, say customers of Hudson Valley Water Company, which maintains private water districts in West Hurley, Rosendale, Pine Hill, Boiceville and Saugerties.
County and state officials heard from about 20 people at a hearing held June 23 at the Woodstock Elementary School. Complaints will be added to the 2019 case.
“The (Ulster County) Department of Health is calling water company owner Mr. (Jeffrey) Fuller in for failure to effectively monitor the system and if and when he does not show up, we will move forward to the next steps with the county attorney and pursue legal action,” Deputy County Executive Marc Rider said.
West Hurley appears to be the epicenter of problems, where two systems serve 84 customers. System No. 4 services 68 homes in the Holland Drive and Brittany Drive area and System No. 3 serves 16 homes in the Pine Street area.
Complaints range from constant billing problems to frequent water main breaks to water that corrodes plumbing and appliances.
“We don’t have enough time to go through the 49 points that were raised by the Public Service Commission. But what we do know is that since this report came out, many of you have called our offices again, and you’ve told us that the water company has not complied with the requirements laid out by the Public Service Commission,” Assemblyman Kevin Cahill said. “We’re talking about your drinking water and what you have to use every single day for your family. This is essential stuff, and there shouldn’t be any messing around. There shouldn’t have to be a second go-round and reporting to the Public Service Commission to say they didn’t do what they said. What are we going to do now?”
One of the 49 recommendations released as a result of the 2019 investigations was a request for Hudson Valley Water Company to investigate interest in the formation of a municipal water district within six months. Cahill asked town leaders if the company made any inquiries.
Hurley officials had no record of such correspondence.
In another recommendation, the company is supposed to address concerns of cloudy water and notify customers of potential solutions within six months. Cahill asked for a show of hands from anyone who has heard from the company. Nobody raised their hand.
“Has anybody here seen the company flushing its hydrants on a regular basis twice a year,” he asked. Again, nobody raised their hand.
The same was true of other recommendations, including clearly marking estimate versus actual reading on bills
State Senator Michelle Hinchey outline two pieces of legislation that she believes will give people some relief. The Small Water Utility Transparency Act grants the Public Utilities Commission, Department of Environmental Conservation and state Comptroller’s office greater auditing authority over small water utilities.
The second bill creates the New York State Small Water Authority, which establishes a new public benefit corporation to monitor small water utilities and provides the ability to take over small water companies when they are deficient.
“We feel really strongly especially with this testimony, one of the things that comes out of here is we’re able to take this and show our colleagues, show our counsel, how important these two pieces of legislation are. Because look what’s happening when there are no regulations on the books. Look what happens when there are no laws,” Hinchey said.
“We first heard about this issue back in the summer of 2019. Assemblymember Cahill’s office contacted us and shared numerous stories about what was going on with everyone’s water from main breaks, water outages and jugs and then we got into the pandemic and stories of people not having water to wash their hands,” said Laurie Wheelock, deputy general counsel of Public Utility Law Project. “We didn’t know at the time if people could leave the house and go safely to the store to buy water, so we worked really hard with the community and all the elected officials to make sure that you could find a way to bring the stories forward.”
Wheelock urged people to come forward with their stories and to contact their hotline with any issues at (800) 342-3377.
“When I first moved here, the idea of having water being privately owned kind of blew my mind,” said Brittany Drive resident Phyllis Bloom. “Just since I’ve been here in four and a half years or so, there have been multiple breaks on the infrastructure, often reported by many people. These are band-aid breaks. Each time there’s a break, it’s just sort of repaired in some way over and over and over again in the same way…If he (Fuller) has to dig up your driveway, in the case of several people here, it’s your expense, not his, to fix the driveway,” Bloom said. “There are times when he has provided water to us in jugs…like water stations, and I live in a condo. During most of this time, it’s an older population. Dragging yourself over to get the water that he’s provided is not exactly a simple matter and it doesn’t really meet your needs, frankly.”
Dover Court resident Angela Gaudioso said she has experienced at least 10 outages or low-pressure issues since 2020. Often the problems occur around the holidays.
The latest problem is high levels of copper, an indication that the water is corroding pipes. Fuller stated he addressed the issue in late 2020.
“Our copper is not only high again, but it is higher than it used to be, in some cases, twice as high. And one or two neighbors I know [have] three times the EPA regulatory limit. That’s just not acceptable,” Gaudioso said.
Hurley town Councilwoman Jana Martin, also a Hudson Valley Water Company customer ally, said Fuller cannot be convinced to do the right thing. “I think the bottom line, from my perspective, is that you cannot bring this man, unfortunately, into compliance. You cannot do it. He has no regard for these customers. He has no regard for people’s health,” Martin said. “His business model is to sit in Long Island and just send out these strange, arbitrary, punitive bills that are usually wrong and refuse to take any kind of no for an answer.”
Barbara Lubow is in charge of 21 condominium units at 48 Brittany Drive. “As property manager, I’m responsible for the people to have their water and their heat. And what happened this year is when the electric went out, there was no water and they don’t have a generator,” she said of the water company.
The boiler needs a consistent water supply, so without water, there is no heat, she explained.
“So what happened after four or five days, many, many pipes broke. Apartments got ruined,” Lubow said. “I had asked Mr. Fuller last year, I called and I spoke to him personally. I asked can you get a generator. At least we’ll have water if the electric is gone. He said it’s expensive. I said yes, it is expensive. But the damage that is caused when we don’t have it is more expensive.”
Carolyn Winters was one such condo owner whose unit suffered extensive damage.
“I have the duplex on the second and third floor, and the entire ceiling on the first floor, which is my living room was soaked. The floor was supposedly totally full of water.”
Winters said she was not reimbursed for the $3000-$4000 cost of repairs, and that was after a much more costly major renovation. “I spent $40,000 and then this happened, so it’s just pitiful the way people are treated.”
“No water should be a for-profit enterprise,” said Normandy Court resident Melissa Gibson.
“It’s not just a Mr. Fuller issue. It’s an issue with the way the entire setup is. It shouldn’t be privatized, and if there are ways out of that, they should be explored in tandem with making Mr. Fuller be accountable.”
Hurley Councilman Mike Boms asked Hinchey about taking over Hudson Valley Water Company’s districts. “We’d like to know how to do that because that’s the only way that this water (system) is going to be replaced and taken care of. We have numerous complaints from the town people. I’m hearing things from Rosendale. I’m hearing things from Boiceville and Saugerties. This is crazy,” Boms said. “This man in 1996 bought 444 residences for $11,500… For $11,500, he’s collecting $400 a quarter from 440 residents, and yet he makes no repairs to any of it.”
High Falls, Rosendale, Saugerties
In the High Falls Park housing development, hydrants serviced by Hudson Valley Water Company have become so unreliable, the High Falls Fire Department cannot count on them, Rosendale Deputy Supervisor Ken Hassett explained. And much like the other districts Fuller controls, there is no backup power.
“When the lights go out, 100-plus households in High Falls Park have no water. They’re the only water system in our immediate area that doesn’t have a backup generator system. We have two other independent water systems in the town of Rosendale and they both have generator backups,” he said.
Things aren’t much better in the Saugerties community of Mt. Marion, where Hudson Valley Water Company serves 229 homes.
Residents there are told to write the number on their water meter on a postcard and send it to the company, but their bill reflects something different.
“When I get my bills, I noticed that the numbers on the bills that says what the water meter reading is, doesn’t reflect what I had. He puts down whatever he wants,” said Mt. Marion Park resident Joanne Dunlap.
She doesn’t trust the water enough to drink it, but Dunlap does use it in the bathroom.
“I do brush my teeth with it and when you put your head down in the sink it smells like a swamp. It smells like fish. It’s disgusting. We have to pay for it. They ought to put a big sign up that says don’t buy here because the water sucks.”