Bonacic Introduces Watershed Dam Legislation

John J. Bonacic

January 20, 2006

State Senator John J. Bonacic (R/I/C - Mt. Hope), has introduced three bills designed to force the City of New York Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to be more accountable to the public and improve inspections and maintenance when it comes to the safety of the City’s water supply dams West of the Hudson River. The six watershed dams are the Neversink, Merriman, Cannonsville, Downsville, Gilboa, and the Ashokan. The bills are also sponsored by Senator James L. Seward. In the Assembly, the legislation was introduced by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.

Senate bill 6415 requires the DEC to undertake detailed inspections and reports of the DEP dams in Delaware, Greene, Orange, Schoharie, Sullivan, and Ulster Counties. The inspections must be supervised by engineers.

Senate bill 6416 requires the DEP to detail to the DEC its maintenance plans and schedule.

Senate bill 6417 requires the DEC to disclose to the CEO of a municipality where a DEP dam is located in Delaware, Greene, Orange, Schoharie, Sullivan, and Ulster Counties copies of the dam inspection reports done. The disclosure is mandated to the Supervisor/Mayor of the municipality where the dam is as well as the Chairman of the County Legislature/Board of Supervisors of the County where the Dam is in.

"Government at all levels ought to be trying to provide information, not use technicalities and evasiveness to deny access to information, as DEC has in the past, - particularly information that directly impacts the health, safety, and welfare of the people of this State," Bonacic said. Senator Bonacic said that if DEC continued to refuse to provide information, that he was prepared to use his subpoena power under the State Legislative Law.

Senator James L. Seward (R/C/I - Milford) stated, "The safety of the people in the Schoharie Valley--those living downstream of the Gilboa Dam--is of paramount importance. I am committed to the legislative or legal action necessary ro ensure that New York City lives up to its responsibility to manage its dams for flood control and to protect people living in the dam's shadow. The bills that I am introducing with Senator Bonacic will provide new safeguards for area residents and help reassert the state's role as a watchdog of the city's actions."

Bonacic also said the DEP should be providing detailed information to the DEC on the DEP’s dam maintenance schedules. "Last week, Senator Seward and I met with DEP Commissioner Lloyd, again. The DEP acknowledged then that a release valve in the Gilboa dam was covered, for instance, by fifteen feet of silt. The DEP is now in crisis mode with the Gilboa, but what about the rest of the dams. They are acting like a car owner who complains the engine almost blew up without admitting they’ve never changed the oil," Bonacic said.

Assemblyman Clifford Crouch stated, "We have an obligation to our constituents to routinely investigate and assess the water supply dams to provide assurance that they are being adequately maintained."

In addition, Bonacic said the DEC ought to be more aggressive in dam inspections. "The dam inspection reports show almost cursory reviews of the dams without any level of detail. The people of our region are living near, and effectively below in many cases, billions of gallons of water, held up by walls. An engineer ought to be undertaking a detailed analysis when the inspections are done. Hopefully this legislation will force the issue."