State Senators John Bonacic and James Seward and Assemblymembers Clifford Crouch and Peter Lopez today blasted the Federal Environmental Protection Agency's decision to propose a ten year Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD) for the City of New York's drinking water supply.
The water supply, known as the watershed, lies overwhelmingly in the Legislators' Districts across Delaware, Greene, Schoharie, Sullivan, and Ulster Counties.
The Legislators said, "The EPA, whether they know it or not, is giving the City of New York a ten year license to be a bully to the people of the Catskills. The Legislators acknowledged that under current DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd, the DEP has been more responsive than in the past to local demands, "but the DEP has a long way to go before they are true partners in the watershed."
The Legislators cited, in particular, issues relating to recreational access to DEP owned lands as problematic as well as the DEP's reluctance to create adequate voids in their reservoirs.
"The City, in the watershed agreement, promised to allow historic recreational uses on the lands they acquire in our Districts. The City has failed to honor that commitment. I think the DEP's real desire is to see the type of recreational use that Rip Van Winkle used the Catskills for, and that's about it," Senator Bonacic said.
Local officials have consistently had to battle the DEP to open up lands the City acquires for hunting, boating, and hiking. The City incrementally has opened up some of their lands, but virtually each increase has required lobbying by local officials. Unlike the City of New York, which has thousands of employees and well paid officials, watershed area officials are typically part time and hold down full time, non-governmental jobs. "Asking local officials to give up more of their time, just so they can hold the DEP to their word, is very frustrating and burdensome. The FAD's ten year extension would allow the DEP staff to be even less responsive to local interests," Senator Bonacic said.
"A decade long release from the requirement to build a water filtration plant has the potential of numbing the future New York City officials to the concerns of the communities in the city watershed," stated Senator James L. Seward (R/C/I - Milford). "As we have seen with the alarming lack of city attention to the Gilboa Dam that precipitated a potential disaster, the specter of building an expensive filtration plant has encouraged the city to be a good neighbor. I would be concerned that a ten year grace period from the need to build a plant might prompt a relaxed attitude toward the concerns and needs of communities in the City watershed upstate."
Assemblyman Cliff Crouch (R- Guilford) said, "The consideration of the EPA to award a ten year FAD is irresponsible and smacks of bureaucracy at its worst. The EPA has failed to recognize that lives and property, as well as the local economies are at risk if New York City is allowed to continue their path status quo."
Assemblyman Peter Lopez (R- Schoharie) said, "Any discussions of extending the FAD must seek to balance stringent regulations for maintaining the water quality with the need for our farms, businesses, and families to live and work in the watershed. As the City works to avoid billion of dollars in filtration costs, it must fully support the communities who are burdened by the regulations that go with it. Any extension of filtration avoidance must be tied to increased financial support and regulatory flexibility in the watershed."
As a result of the City's poor history of watershed management, the Senate has passed legislation which takes away the City's authority to regulate most of its reservoirs. That measure, which passed with bipartisan support last year, was seen at the time as a rebuke to the City DEP's management style.
"The EPA has got to take notice that the Senate has had to twice pass legislation to get the DEP's attention. Obviously, the EPA isn't aware that the Senate has lost faith in the DEP's ability to manage its reservoirs, that the people of the Catskills have lost faith in the ability of the DEP to safely maintain their reservoirs, that the local officials of the Catskills are frustrated with dealing with a bureaucracy gone awry, and that the people of the Catskills are frustrated with having their houses flooded. To reward this stunning display of ineffectiveness with a ten year FAD is incompetence only a bureaucracy could muster," the Legislators said.
The Legislators mailed resolutions to all Watershed municipalities asking them to indicate their opposition to a ten year FAD. "The EPA has to understand this is a two way partnership - the water flows from our region to the City. The EPA has to learn that the upstate communities need to be willing partners in the FAD, not indentured servants for the next decade. A 10 year FAD is outrageous and we call upon our local Congressional delegation and two United States Senators to vigorously oppose this, and introduce legislation to limit any FAD to five years at the most," concluded the Legislators.