United Water DEIS public hearing on desal attracts hundreds to Haverstraw

Posted by on Mar 7, 2012 | 0 comments

Hundreds of Rockland County residents attended the public hearing at Haverstraw Town Hall on Tuesday, March 6 at 2pm and 6pm to listen to and make comments on United Water New York’s proposed desalination plant for Hudson Valley drinking water.  This was the only public hearing scheduled and the room was packed to capacity for both meetings. At the 6pm meeting, the room was filled quickly and about 100 more people filled the lobby and poured into the parking lot because fire codes restricted the total number of people allowed into the room. Both hearings began with a brief presentation by United Water’s Michael Pointing. At the 2pm hearing, Village of Haverstaw Mayor MIchael Kohut spoke in favor of the proposed plant, as did Town of Haverstraw Supervisor, Howard Phillips, who could not attend the hearing but had his letter read into the record. They each supported the plant because it promised to provided tax revenues for the town and the North Rockland School district. They also believed United Water had chosen the most cost effective and safe means to provide Rockland County with and “unlimited” supply of drinking water for the future.
Before the public hearing, the Rockland Water Coalition held a press conference outside the front of Haverstraw Town Hall. The conference was facilitated by former Rockland County Legislator Connie Coker. Other speakers at the press conference included George Potanovic, Jr., member of the Rockland Water Coalition and President  of SPACE; Andy Stewart, Orangetown Supervisor, Shirley Lasker, Clarkstown Councilwoman; Gil Hawkins, Director of Environmental Affairs, Hudson River Fishermen’s Association; Jordan Christensen, Hudson Valley Program Coordinator, Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment; Eric Weltman, Food & Water Watch and Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.

Once inside the hearing, a number of the Rockland Water Coalition partner organizations spoke against the proposed desalination, which is officially named the “Haverstraw Water Supply Project.” Shirley Lasker, Councilwoman and Deputy Supervisor of the Town of Clarkstown strongly criticized the project as being overpriced, unnecessary and out of step with the Clarkstown’s own Comprehensive Plan, which stresses more sustainable development practices. Bob Dillon, member of Rockland RAFT and the Rockland Water Coalition outlined the history of United Water’s excessive transfers of water to New Jersey that have repeatedly gone beyond those permitted. He calculated project costs and identified water transfers that would offset most of the tax revenues promised and, instead, collectively drive up the project expenses and water rates for all United Water customers.  Project expense has remained a significant concern since desalination and reverse osmosis are extremely energy intensive operations that would tie future water rates to unstable and rising energy rates. In addition, several people were concerned about the proposed plant being located only 3.5 miles south of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, which leaks radionuclides into the river.  Traces of Strontium 90 and Tritium were both found in water samples produced at United Water’s Pilot Plant near East Railroad Avenue. While the water sampled contained very small radioactive traces, the public’s concerns about unreported leaks and shutdowns at Indian Point fueled further discussion and speculation by Hudson RIver Sloop Clearwater Environmental Director, Manna Jo Greene that placing an energy intensive water treatment plant in close proximity to IndIan Point posed a health risk and that Rockland residents should not have to accept. United Water assured the audience that water test samples produced at the Pilot Plant were well within safe levels established by EPA and New York State water quality standards.

A number of speakers, including Gil Hawkins, Director of Environmental Affairs, Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and Laurie Seeman of Stawtown Studio environmental education and the Rockland Water Coalition spoke about the Haverstraw Bay as a vital river resource, the most highly rated “Significant Coastal Fish & Wildlife Habitat” in the Hudson River Estuary and a spawning area and nursery for the Atlantic Sturgeon, and fish that are important to the Atlantic coastal fisheries.  They are concerned that small fish may become entrained. At 5:15pm, there were still about 40 people who did not yet speak. The 6pm session filled up fast. Another 100 people were forced to stand outside the meeting room in the lobby and a still larger crowd was pouring out into the parking lot. The unions had tee shirts printed in favor of the desal and these were worn by the union members. But none decided to speak. It appears that they were told to come out for jobs. However the plant would not actually produce many permanent jobs after construction.

During the hearing, several people asked that the DEC extend the public hearing deadline be extended to a total of 6 months. One of those making the request at the 6pm session was Rockland County Legislator, Joe Meyers. He requested the DEC comply with a resolution passed unanimously by the full legislature about two weeks ago, asking the DEC to extend the public comment period for a total of 6 months instead of only 60 days. He asked that another public hearing be held in another area of the county in order to allow greater public participation and he asked the DEC to strongly request that United Water provide intervenor funding to pay for municipalities and citizen’s groups to hire needed experts to recheck United Water’s data. Meyers was the only County Legislator to speak at the public hearing due to a scheduling conflict with an important County Legislature meeting happening the same night. Members of the public requested a time extension and another public hearing since the room was too small to fit everyone and many people who came to participate in the public hearing were not permitted to go inside. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *