An Unexpected Opportunity
Alright. So Phoenicia won’t be getting a new septic treatment
plant. That’s what its property owners voted for; it was
their choice and no one else’s. Now that they’ve
made it, what will it mean for the future?
In Phoenicia, unless a system gets pushed into place against
the people’s will – which isn’t all that unlikely,
given the sense of “greater good” that led to the
setting up of municipal water and sewer systems in the first
place – there’ll likely be a certain amount of stagnation,
at least business-wise.
Although the businesses that shepherded the vote against the
new system should stay as they are just fine, other opportunities
are now likely going to be missed. There were plans afoot for
big changes at the Phoenicia Hotel, for a Riverwalk project
to spur commercial development by turning the hamlet towards
its creek frontage. There was even talk of moving utility lines
underground, putting in new sidewalks, pathways, seating and
lighting, and who knows how many other things that now won’t
get built or rebuilt without the $17 million in funding Phoenicia
just turned down.
By our rough count, the no-vote in the referendum February 3
cost Phoenicia between $25 and $30 million in direct investment,
public and private, in the hamlet’s infrastructure and
short-term development. That a lot of money for a small place
to have committed to it and then lose… around $80,000
or $90,000 for each and every household and business in the
hamlet. By comparison, that’s more than twice the money
that’s now invested in the old IBM facilities in Kingston,
and that’s a good-sized project by anyone’s standards.
We’re not going to do a detailed post-mortem on what happened,
everyone’s got their own explanations and almost everyone’s
partially right. But the sewer project didn’t fail because
most people in Phoenicia didn’t want centralized septic
treatment for the hamlet. Most who voted against it said they
did so because they wanted a better deal from the City. That’s
easy to understand. The town had been fighting for that for
years and their wastewater committee probably did do the best
they could, given the total lack of support for that position
from the watershed’s political leadership. Unfortunately,
any prospect of a better deal wasn’t what was on the ballot.
But the unfortunate truth is the Shandaken town government did
a poor job of communicating the answers people needed to the
questions that were raised… not answering many until just
days before the vote. People were given assurance the system’s
operating costs wouldn’t exceed a fixed amount, but not
that their own bills wouldn’t rise by more than a fixed
amount. In short, confusion reigned that could have been reigned
So what does all this have to do with Olive, and where’s
the opportunity for us in the Phoenicia vote?
Simply put, we have an offer on the table we’ll be dealing
with in our own referendum vote for a Boiceville wastewater
system sometime in the coming months. To date, the offer –
while no where near what was on the table for Phoenicia –
was getting a somewhat lukewarm reception from our town government,
as well as the local business community.
With the recent developments next door, we think all that may
be changing. Or at least SHOULD be changing.
It’s like this… Given the crimp in growth potential
that Phoenicia has apparently handed itself, there’s currently
room for Boiceville to pick up some of the slack and become
a key center for the Route 28 corridor. The place already is
home to the largest supermarket between West Hurley and Margaretville,
a school campus that seems likely to grow exponentially with
increased centralization in the coming years and, via the new
plans for the old Singer-Denman’s building, a better sense
of business potential than has been in view for years. And that’s
all without anyone banking on better wastewater treatment.
With added infrastructure, Boiceville has the opportunity of
truly centering the town and the greater region in a way it
comes close to now, but just misses. We’re not talking
tract homes here or light industry, mind you, but via the centering
of our region’s education and some of its main services
in a way where responsible growth – smarter than has occurred
to date, with a better sense of the terrain around us, and how
to best capture the Friday night and Sunday afternoon traffic
that speeds by Boiceville week in and week out – can pull
the whole area up a notch. And not all for the benefit of a
few single businesspeople.
The trick to doing this, though, is to avoid the sense of confusion
and governmental distrust that ended up with Phoenicia saying
no to $17 million in key funding. And the best way to do that,
we feel, is to elevate the dialogue regarding what’s on
the table much earlier… and more transparently.
Accompanying any talk we have in the coming months about what
the Catskill Watershed Corporation is offering us, we need to
seriously talk about how we want Olive to look in the future…
beyond its current politics, its current funding relationships,
its current demographics.
In our view… things aren’t looking bad. But they
do need open discussion and, as with all things potentially
good, a lot of honest work. Which we feel we’re more than