Editorial: Rockland residents need more input on desalination plant

Posted by on Mar 8, 2012 | 0 comments

Overflow crowds attended two public meetings on United Water’s plan to build a treatment plant that would take water from the Hudson River and send it to Rocklanders’ taps. Many who wanted to share their ideas on the controversial plant were left high and dry — hardly adequate for a proposal affecting so many people.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation needs to ensure that Rockland residents have ample time, and opportunity, to share their thoughts on the Haverstraw Water Supply Project. Just one day of meetings, and a written comment period that ends April 20, falls woefully short.

The Rockland County Legislature and a coalition of environmental organizations have made a reasonable request to extend the public review period to six months rather than a scant three months. They have also requested more public meetings, in more neighborhoods that would be served by United Water’s facility designed to desalinate brackish water from Haverstraw Bay. Tuesday’s meetings were both held at Town Hall in Haverstraw, the cash-strapped host community for a facility that would add to the property tax base and add at least temporary construction jobs.

Questions remain
Environmentalists, local officials and just plain folk who like to know what’s coming out of their tap have expressed concerns about the project. They include:

How energy-intensive desalination of water taken from the Hudson estuary would impact water bills.

What kind of water quality can be expected from Haverstraw Bay, where swimming is banned and Indian Point nuclear power plant sits across the river.

What the impact of water intake from Haverstraw Bay will be on the Atlantic sturgeon and other creatures located in a state-designated aquatic nursery and wildlife habitat.

Some also question the original decision by a state agency to order United Water to come up with a long-term water solution for Rockland in the first place — which put Rockland on the path to drinking desalinated Hudson River water. While a 2002 drought and earlier studies showed a shortage of water resources for the county, a 2005-10 study by the U.S. Geological Survey found Rockland’s aquifers were recharging faster than anticipated.

Then there’s United Water’s track record on water management. United Water paid fines for excess water released from Lake DeForest into New Jersey. The utility blamed the 2008 release on a broken valve, apparently malfunctioning for 18 months. Yet, the equipment problem wasn’t discovered by United Water, which is charged with managing this precious resource. Rather, a curious Rockland County hydrologist noticed the United Water reservoir was low and investigated.

Is it any wonder Rocklanders want more time to wade through the technical documents and calculations provided by United Water?

Deserving of time
George Potanovic, a founder of the Rockland Water Coaliton, attended both the afternoon and evening public comment sessions on Tuesday; he noticed that many people never made it past the parking lot. “They didn’t get a chance to talk, and didn’t get a chance to listen, either,” Potanovic said, who advocates for more meetings at more geographically diverse venues.

He also wants the “benefit of extended time” to hire experts that could help the coalition vet some of the technical data in United Water’s report. “We’d like to have this,” said Potanovic, who heads the Stony Point Action Committee for the Concerned Environment, “to put the public on an equal footing with United Water.”

State Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee used similar arguments when she successfully pushed the state to extend the public comment period from two months to three. She cited the 2 1/2 years United Water had to hone its environmental report for the DEC. Jaffee supports the county Legislature’s request to further extend the comment period to six months.

Rocklanders deserve more time to study, and weigh in on, a project that would impact a necessity of their daily lives.

Journal News editorial appearing on lohud.com 3-7-2012

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