is scheduled for 7pm at town hall in Allaben.
For the first time since the project began being planned over two
years ago, there is a deadline to convince the Phoenicia community
of the project’s merits. If the community does not want the
project, they must say so in the form of a referendum vote before
the six months pass.
On Tuesday night at the Parish Hall in Phoenicia Attorney Kevin Young
told the Wastewater Committee and an audience of concerned residents
that he thinks the town board should begin the process of forming
a sewer district immediately. If they do, he said, a permissive referendum
would probably take place in the January or February. Such a referendum
is not mandatory but a large faction of the Phoenicia community, which
opposes the plan, has indicted that they would push for such a referendum
as a way of stopping the project.
But Young raised a few eyebrows at the hall when he said there was
a second option to move the project forward, one that could prevent
a referendum even if it was demanded by a majority.
If a petition calling for the formation of a sewer district is signed
by owners of at least 50% of the total assessed value of the proposed
district, Young said, the town board would be required to address
the request. He also said there is clear criteria for denying the
request, and that the town board would not be able to deny it on arbitrary
This bothered many in the room that until that moment felt that they
had control over the fate of the project via a referendum. It is now
clear that those motivated to see the project move forward could make
it happen with a door to door petition drive. And some those who would
sign have lots of clout.
Called a “rich man’s game” by one angry resident,
the petition drive would lend more clout to one signature that represented
a substantial amount of assessed value. On the other hand, a referendum
would only deal with votes, not land value, so a majority of property
owners with only marginal property value could best those few that
enjoy higher land values.
Mike Ricciardella, a member of the wastewater committee, called the
petition method of making the decision underhanded and a “weasel
The town board, however, does not determine whether or not the petition
drive would occur. That would be done, Young said, by community volunteers.
The crucial issue remains the costs Phoenicia is expected to bear
for the project in the form of hook up fees and annual operation and
maintenance costs for businesses. Many view those costs as prohibitive
and they await word from town officials on how much of them the City
of New York will agree to pay.
On Tuesday Young and project engineer John Brust announced that the
City of New York, which previously committed $11 million to build
the system, has now kicked that amount up to $17 million. That amount,
Brust said, will pay for the total system construction and hopefully
leave $1.5 million to pay for individual hook ups to the system. Hook
ups are estimated at about $2500 for each residential unit.
But they could not guarantee the money would be there for that purpose.
Project cost overruns could eat it up, leaving property owners with
the responsibility of paying for the hook ups out of pocket.
“It’s not a great deal but it’s the best deal we’re
going to get,” Young said.
The City has also not budged an inch on its contribution to annual
operating costs, Young said, and will not even consider owning the
treatment plant the way some in the community want.
Does The Creek Behave?
Fishenich, who has worked on streams in thirteen countries
and all 50 states, was hired by the New York City Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) to guide studies of the creek as part of a Stream
Management Plan Project required by the EPA to avoid filtration of
city drinking water. Administered by Cornell Cooperative Extension,
the project has involved extensive collection of data on the behavior
of the streams in normal and flood situations, with a view to making
recommendations on actions to decrease turbidity—that milky-coffee
look that wrecks the fishing and impairs drinking water quality—and
prevent bank erosion.
Speaking by phone from his office in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Fishenich
said, “This meeting will be useful for landowners to attend.
We’ll set the stage for how to make responsible decisions about
protecting property, and we’ll spend some time on management
practices—riprap, retaining walls, and such—that have
been employed in the past, what’s good and bad about them, and
how they can be improved.” Fishenich has examined many existing
structures, some of which he finds will clearly fail at some point
in the future unless they are stabilized, often a simple procedure.
“There are three or four ways they generally fail,” he
explained. “Erosion gets around and behind the structure, or
it is not adequately protected against scour at the toe”—meaning
that sediment flowing downstream scours away the stream bed and undermines
the structure. “Or the drainage of the banks has not been taken
into consideration, causing oversaturation. I’m going to show
bad and good examples.”
At the meeting, public input regarding such issues as erosion, flooding,
recreation, and water quality will also be invited for inclusion in
the plan, which is to be completed by the end of November and put
out to the public for review in December.
In the past year, Fishenich and his crew have walked or paddled the
entire system of the Esopus and its tributaries within the Town of
Shandaken, mapping the waterways, collecting data, and taking note
of problem situations. In July, he was on the Bridge Street bridge
while a DEP intern, Sarah Powell, peered through the scope of a laser-equipped
survey instrument, taking readings from prism-mounted poles carried
by several men along the creek banks and in the water. Speaking to
the crew through her walkie-talkie, she was murmuring, “Rod
height 8.37. Got it, Dan. Bar 12.0. Mark, you have to lean it to your
left a little. Got it, channel bottom, what was your height again?
Eight-point-oh, got it.”
“We’ve selected a few reaches to carefully monitor,”
said Fishenich, indicating the downstream side of the bridge. They
had spent most of the previous day working the upstream side. “We’re
surveying them at different points in time to see how the channel
changes, in order to give us options to help manage floods. This survey
is part of a sediment study on the Stony Clove Creek, where there’s
a history of dredging [near the bridge at the west end of Main Street]
to deepen the channel and prevent flooding. There’s compelling
evidence that it’s not effective. We’re studying the area
around the confluence of the two creeks to see if there’s any
benefit in continuing.”
Determining how to make buildings in town less susceptible to flooding
is one objective of the study. The effects of dredging are counterintuitive,
said Fishenich, and an example of how “a lot of us have perceptions
about stream behavior that are entirely incorrect. There are theories
based on lowland, meandering streams that don’t hold in mountain
settings. It’s easy to demonstrate and to express mathematically
but hard to explain. Dredging actually makes the water surface go
up because it narrows the channel, which speeds up the water and moves
sediment quicker.” If I understood him correctly, the sediment
is then deposited downstream at the confluence with the Esopus, increasing
the height of the water at the confluence, backing water up into the
Stony Clove, and causing flooding upstream and downstream of the junction,
located just southwest of Main Street.
Fishenich is waiting for a last bit of data regarding bridges from
the Department of Transportation in order to complete the study on
dredging and hopes to present the results at the October 5 meeting,
along with findings on sedimentation and erosion throughout the system.
The data on turbidity resulting from erosion of clay banks is encouraging,
“We believed until recently that clay exposures along the Esopus
would require extensive restoring and stabilizing, but it turns out
that if they are undisturbed, they are highly resistant to erosion.
The exception is clay deposits occurring at the bottom of big hill
slope failures, mostly along the tributaries. After a storm stirs
up sediment, the Stony Clove, for example, doesn’t clear off
as fast as other streams in the system because it has several areas
of disturbed sediments. Those sites ought to be given higher priority
Treatments recommended would be site-specific and might vary from
something as simple as planting of vegetation to a more complex engineering
task such as constructing a rock vane in the water to guide the fastest
flow away from the bank. The most extreme measure would be re-routing
the stream away from the clay deposits. Funds may be available from
the DEP and other government agencies for remediation. The plan will
make recommendations to prioritize remediation projects, and data
from the study will provide information that will speed up the construction
process and make it more cost-effective.
“In many respects, this is a fascinating watershed,” said
Fishenich, who has seen plenty of rivers around the world. “There
are many unique things about it.” The Esopus Creek Stream Management
Plan public meeting will take place Thursday, October 5, 2006 at 7:00
p.m. at the Phoenicia Fish and Game Club on Route 28 near Phoenicia.
For more information call Michael Courtney of the Cornell Cooperative
Extension at 340-3990 or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
seeking a more significant downsizing of the Belleayre Resort project
than Gitter has proposed, including local Congressman Maurice Hinchey
and representatives from the ad hoc Catskill Preservation Coaliton
of eleven national and regional environmental organizations, see Steinberg’s
September 19 letter in much different terms from the developer.
As did Steinberg himself, in an exclusive interview about his recent
decision to hold off a decision until an ongoing adjudication and
review permitting process involving Gitter’s proposal is completed
in the coming years.
The Belleayre Resort proposal, which originally called for the creation
of two high-end hotels, time share condominiums, and private home
enclaves surrounding a pair of mountain top golf courses along the
ridgeline adjacent to the state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center,
has been awaiting a state Department of Environmental Conservation
decision on a series of appeals made by the developer to a DEC Judge’s
decision that a dozen key environmental issues involved in its review
go to trial-like adjudication. Albany insiders say that that decision,
handed down by DEC Commissioner Denise Sheehan to an Assistant Commissioner
because of possible conflict-of-interest concerns, will likely not
occur until after the upcoming November election, when it is expected
that a new Democratic administration will replace current Governor
George Pataki’s appointees.
“As you know, over the past few months the Environmental Protection
Agency (EP) has participated in the public dialogue about the project.
In press statements and correspondence, EPA has summarized its previously
stated concerns about site runoff during construction that would adversely
affect the Catskill watershed, which is already prone to turbidity
spikes,” Steinberg wrote, referring to letters written to Congressmen
and other officials in which a preference for a “No Build”
alternative proposed by Hinchey was stated.
Gitter suggested, in a press release released while Steinberg was
making an August 29 visit to his proposed resort sites, that Steinberg
had been considering reversing that decision.
“EPA has explained that a reduced scale project limited to the
western section of the site could alleviate our concerns,” Steinberg
continued in this week’s letter to Gitter. “EPA has indicated
support for discussion among interested parties to achieve a reduced
scale development, and has expressed support for project revisions
that would eliminate development on the eastern site.”
As for Gitter’s proposed downsizing, made via a verbal presentation
at Steinberg’s offices this past summer arranged by Republican
Congressman John Sweeney, who has since stepped back from the process,
the EPA official was cordial, acknowledging its “significantly
smaller footprint” and offering “initial feedback.”
The new proposal Gitter has been putting forth calls for the substitution
of a state-of-the-art spa for one of the two golf courses and the
elimination of approximately 100 housing units.
“EPA continues to elkieve that the no-build alternative for
the eastern Big Indian site would provide the greatest assurance that
water quality in the Esopus Creek watershed would not be impaired,”
Steinberg continued, while noting that the reduced-scale proposal
could reduce “the risk of adverse impacts.”
But then Steinberg added that “additional review will be necessary
to evaluate more fully the water quality implications of the revised
project,” something that would be handled as part of the ongoing
SEQRA (environmental quality) and New York City Department fo Environmental
Protection permitting review processes.
“Through the State and City review processes, issues such as
potential induced growth and site runoff will continue to receive
scrutiny,” Steinberg noted, bringing up a sore subject raised
by local governmental agencies in support of the Gitter project in
recent years. He then specifically suggested that Gitter’s Crossroads
Ventures start looking into additional use of conservation easements,
construction phasing, and a heightened role for greater regulatory
agency oversight of the entire building of the project to speed things
“Our response,” wrote Gitter spokesperson Paul Rakov when
sent a copy of the Steinberg letter, which the EPA made available
to the local press immediately. “We are encouraged by Mr. Steinberg's
letter and his clear ‘wait and see’ attitude. Our engineers
have already conducted an initial briefing with the technical staffs
of the EPA, DEP and DEC, all of whom responded positively. We will
continue to fill in more of the technical details to Mr. Steinberg
and the other regulatory agencies in the coming days and weeks.”
Almost immediately, statements also came in from the CPC and Hinchey.
“CPC welcomes EPA Regional Administrator Steinberg’s statement
that the ‘no build’ alternative on the east side will
provide the greatest assurance that water quality in the Esopus Creek
and the New York City Watershed will not be further impaired,”
wrote CPC Spokesperson Marc Gerstman, an attorney for the Natural
Resources Defense Council. “CPC concurs with Regional Administrator
Steinberg’s position recognizing that the revised Gitter proposal
must be reviewed through the full New York State SEQRA process. The
SEQRA process will have to consider, as DEC Judge Wissler directed,
the induced growth impacts of the project as well as site run off,
natural resource impacts and, significantly, the impacts on the Catskill
Forest Preserve. Significantly, CPC also agrees with EPA Regional
Administrator Steinberg that a proposed project of this magnitude
could effect and must be considered in the context of next year’s
review of New York city’s Filtration Avoidance Determination
Hinchey, on a similar track, spoke about his own proposal, made a
year ago, for the project’s eastern portion to be eliminated.
“I am encouraged by the EPA's letter regarding the proposed
Belleayre Resort because it clearly discusses the importance of protecting
the New York City Watershed from such a project and highlights the
clear evidence that the proposal as was first presented would have
a severe negative impact on the watershed,” said Hinchey. "If
this original Belleayre Resort plan were ever to go forward as presented,
there is no question that the EPA would inevitably require the construction
of a filtration plant for New York City since the water supply would
be so adversely affected by runoff from construction. Currently, the
watershed is clean enough that New York City doesn't need a filtration
system. Such a system would cost $8 billion to construct and hundreds
of millions of dollars annually to maintain. Not only would New York
City need a water filtration system, but other municipalities that
draw water from the aqueduct, such as New Paltz and High Falls, would
need a filtration plant.
"I offered my scaled-down development proposal for just the west
side of the original project site in order to safeguard the watershed.
I am very pleased that the EPA once again stated its support for a
such an alternative,” Hinchey added. “While a new proposal
is apparently in the works, as far as I know there is nothing in writing
at this point that goes into any detail. Regardless, we will continue
to fight to protect the watershed and shield it from any negative
impact that development of the eastern half of the project would bring."
Told about the various responses to his letter on Tuesday, the day
of its release, Steinberg laughed and tried to clarify his points.
“The important thing to remember is that the SEQRA process is
there. They have to go through that anyway and complete what’s
been started,” Steinberg said, noting for the record that he
was not “the chief zoning officer of the region. My interest
is that the project not effect the turbidity of New York City’s
water.” Other than that, his role was merely one “of oversight.”
“Everyone has to run through their processes here. I don’t
want my agency making any findings or decisions in a vacuum,”
Steinberg continued. The question, he said, was now going to be whether
the project had been scaled down enough to answer all the questions
that will be raised during adjudication. Otherwise, he said, his agency’s
preference was for building only the western half of the proposed
After asking to hear Gitter’s response to his letter again,
Steinberg said, “I want to make it clear. This letter is not
an indication of approval or disapproval. It’s a statement that
it is necessary for us first to have all the findings that arise through
full review before us.”
Asked to clarify a statement in his letter about ensuring that the
Gitter proposes meets the requirement of a new Filtration Avoidance
Determination due from the EPA this coming April, 2007, Steinberg
said that it was unlikely review of the Belleayre Resort proposal
would be anywhere near finished by that time. What he was suggesting,
he added, was that anything that came up that might run counter to
that FAD would “be taken into serious account.”
“We’ve being very careful,” Steinberg said at several
points, noting that the disparate views of his letter meant he must
have done something right. “I deal with controversial issues
all the time and am not afraid of making a decision.”
Finally, asked about its own response to Steinberg’s letter,
and Gitter’s implication that his new proposal was currently
under City review, NYC DEP spokesperson Ian Michaels said, simply,
“We have not yet received a proposal and when we do, we will
fully review it.”