New Paltz is going to be home to a new government operations center, and now that the political process for making that decision is over, county officials came to the January 5 New Paltz Town Board meeting to address some of the bureaucratic steps. To streamline building the new facility on the Paradies Lane parcel, town officials are being asked if they’d be willing to take a back seat in the process. Specifically, they’re looking for immunity from local zoning law. While Supervisor Neil Bettez maintains that this project is just what the hamlet zoning was intended to make possible, Bettez and other council members are inclined to grant the request — but they must hold a public hearing before deciding.
More than 50 acres adjacent to the Thruway and Paradies Lane — the same land that was a potential Walmart site in the 1990s — look to be ideal for this project, which will put emergency response and 911 dispatch operations under the same roof. Redundant power is a must, and the site is located between two Central Hudson substations. While there will also be backup power generators, local architect Rick Alfandre has been tapped in an effort to make the facility run carbon neutral. Thanks to how phone line systems were set up in the past, it will also be relatively easy to set up redundant communication systems.
The operations center will be located in the northwestern portion of the site, with 82-foot defensive buffers north and south of the structure itself. Council member Julie Seyfert-Lillis seemed pleased that the number of trees sentenced to death under this plan is quite low, all while having room for emergency operations staging. There’s enough room to allow for well, septic and even a future addition within that buffer. Supervisor Neil Bettez pointed out during the presentation that town water is close enough to tap into that rather than drilling a well, too. The aquifer under this site was seriously being considered for the municipal water supply, but testing a few years ago revealed that it had become salty at some point in recent decades, for reasons as yet unknown. Desalinization at that scale was not considered feasible, but would be much easier to accomplish just for this facility because the volume will be much lower. This use is also not expected to have significant traffic impacts.
Dennis Doyle, who directs county planning, said that purchasing the entire site will allow county officials to “control future neighbors,” presumably to maintain the safety that the large buffer is intended to secure. Doyle carefully avoided discussing any potential use for the remaining acres, but did say that the operations center is being located on the best soil on the site, in the corner that is the least wet. There have been calls to build affordable housing on that land, but it’s unclear how addressing that urgent need would work with a desire to “control future neighbors.”
Inside the structure will be located the county 911 dispatch center, and a room decked out for collaborating and solving problems, whether on an emergency basis or as part of routine government business. Mechanical systems that ensure continuous operation and a room full of servers will also be within. It’s hoped that such a resilient space will make it easier to respond to the growing number of climate-related emergencies.
What will be absent from this operation is response to 988 calls. The suicide and crisis lifeline can be reached by dialing or texting that number, or by chatting at 988lifeline.org. Regional calls to 988 are routed through a hub in Dutchess County, where crisis counselors are available to speak and to make referrals. It’s also possible to get help with a mental health crisis in Ulster County by dialing 911. Everett Erichsen, who directs emergency operations, explained after the meeting that 911 calls that come in from 12-8 can be diverted to a clinician.
Council members believe that this use of the site will generate less controversy than some of the other projects proposed since the ‘90s, and readily declared that they do not wish to assume the lead agency role for the environmental review. They set a February 16 hearing on the question of allowing the project to proceed without consideration of town zoning, which is part of the process laid out in state law for times when officials of one government would prefer to avoid the red tape of another.