From Richard C. Feminella, P.E.

As an Upper Nyack resident, a United Water customer, a Professional Engineer with 15-years experience in the wastewater industry, a member of the Sparkhill Creek Watershed Alliance and as a union member of Laborers International Union of North America, I am strongly opposed to the proposal to construct a desalination plant on Haverstraw Bay. I respectfully urge you to reject the desalination plant proposed by United Water for Rockland County. This proposal is unnecessary, expensive, energy intensive, and needlessly destructive of the environment. It simply does not make sense to site a water supply 3.5 miles from a leaking nuclear power plant, subjecting residents to lifetime exposures to low levels of radionuclides.

I am writing specifically to the Department of State Division of Coastal Resources consistency review for United Water’s proposal for desalination for Rockland County (the “Haverstraw Supply Project”).

I am formally requesting that the Department of State extend the public comment period on this project until the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s SEQRA review is complete. This extension would ensure that the Department of State is given the benefit of full review of all the relevant materials that will be submitted by April 20, the close of the DEC public comment period. This request for extension of the DOS public comment period, in order to give this complex proposal the full public scrutiny that it requires, is in line with the recent resolution passed unanimously by the Rockland County Legislature asking for a longer public comment period for the SEQRA review of 90 days.

I am also writing to ask you to reject this proposal, which I believe is inconsistent with DOS criteria for approval.

The Rockland Water Coalition, a broad array of local citizen groups working together with major regional partners such as Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson, and Clearwater, has come together in opposition to this proposal.

I join these groups in their concerns:

  • Impacts on the “Irreplaceable Habitat” of Haverstraw Bay, a critical spawning ground, nursery, feeding area and wintering habitat for fish and other wildlife, with impacts beyond the river on Atlantic fisheries;
  • Impacts on Haverstraw Marsh (federal wetlands), known as a recovering habitat for wildlife, including the Bald Eagle;
  • Substantial increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to energy intensive desalination;
  • Increased regional energy usage, counter to state’s goal of shutting down Indian Point;
  • Establishment of an irreversible precedent for this technology in NY State, in place of water supply policies and technologies with far lower environmental impacts;
  • Creation of a permanent impediment to the recovery of this formerly industrial area, which is working to restore itself as a river-based community in terms of its environment, recreation, and river-related economy;
  • Permanent alteration to the character of this community;
  • Inconsistency with Rockland County Comprehensive Plan, which calls for the protection of Haverstraw Bay and the establishment of the bay as an important estuary education center.

This proposal appears to be in direct contradiction to DOS policy to protect, preserve and restore significant coastal fish and wildlife habitats so as to maintain their viability as habitats. Haverstraw Bay is the most highly valued “Irreplaceable” Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat according to the Department of State own designation. If built, this desalination plant would jeopardize the recovery of several federally endangered species and species of concern, including the Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon, and the American eel.

Although I haven’t had time to review the entire document to date, the Draft EIS raises more questions than it answers and appears to make many blanket statements without sufficient scientific data and real life examples to support the statements.

Desalination is an extremely energy intensive process that is inefficient. As it can take between 2 to 3 gallons of saltwater to produce 1 gallon of clean drinking water, the process has a roughly 33 – 50% efficiency rate. This is unacceptable.

The recent USGS data indicates that the need for more water may have been previously overstated by United Water and others. There needs to be more time to study this data and other alternatives. There are ways to provide additional fresh drinking water without constructing a desalination plant. Better management of the existing water supply system by United Water alone may meet Rockland County’s water demands for decades to come.
In addition, there are alternative sources of water that need to be explored further, including, but not limited to wastewater reuse. This would strengthen our existing infrastructure (which is needed regardless of how we move forward), have the potential to provide both construction jobs and potential long term jobs in operating the County wastewater treatment plant expansion/upgrades needed, provide clean drinking water and improve the water quality of the Hudson River by reducing some of the current loading of wastewater effluent discharge to the Hudson River.

The site location for the proposed desalination plant is only 3.5 miles away from Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant making it susceptible to contamination from accidental releases from Indian Point. Currently, there are radioactive substances present in the Hudson River from Indian Point that would not be removed from the desalination process. The Haverstraw Bay is also designated by New York State as a Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat that needs to be nurtured, respected and preserved. It should not be pillaged of its water and burdened with receiving the concentrated salt, mineral and pollutant load from the proposed desalination plant’s wastewater discharge in return. This project fails to think outside the box and look for innovative ways to solve our current and future needs. It also steals vital financial resources to strengthen our existing infrastructure which could benefit from several improvements and instead develops a new facility that will only burden us with operations and maintenance costs forever.

It should be noted that there is an existing new state of the art wastewater treatment plant (the Hillburn plant in Western Ramapo) that is currently processing 1.5 MGD, but was originally envisioned to be a 5 MGD facility that would provide a potential wastewater reuse source for replenishing drinking water supply. It is my understanding that United Water originally was going to partially fund this upgrade, but to date has not met their financial contribution. While additional upgrades would be necessary to provide the full 5 MGD, here is a potential water source that exists already and was intended to be used for wastewater reuse.

Finally, the proposed project has not included the potential upgrades that would be required at the wastewater treatment plants to handle the wastewater generated from increasing the water supply.

While United Water claims that the proposed desalination plant is many things it is not including that desalination is the most financially responsible alternative. This claim is contradicted by a study performed by the Rockland County Sewer District No. 1 in 2002. The proposed desalination project is estimated by United Water to cost between $138 and $189 Million dollars (based on 2010 dollars). However, using information from the study of wastewater reuse from the RCSD No. 1 study (attached as exhibit “A”) the estimated project cost for upgrading RCSD NO. 1′s WWTP for reuse (which could give up to 15 MGD of new water source) is $72 Million (reference page 7-1 of that report). Since this study was completed in 2002,  I used Engineering News Record (ENR)’s Construction Cost Index data (attached as exhibit “B”) to determine 2010 dollars for this wastewater reuse option.  This was completed so a comparison between the DEIS data and this report can be equally compared. Based on that analysis, with the RCSD WW reuse, I come up with an estimated capital cost including engineering services, legal, etc. of approximately $97 Million.  This is SIGNIFICANTLY lower than the proposed desal plant and much lower than United Water’s proposal for WW reuse. Remember, United Water’s Desal plant is $138-189 Million.  So WW reuse could be between $40 and 90 Million less. This is only one example of how I feel the information presented in the DEIS is not transparent, not scientific and appears to be biased. It is almost as if the report was written with a conclusion developed first and then the report developed around it as opposed to honestly studying the facts of ALL alternatives and then seeing what the results show as the most feasible, ecological and economical option.

The desalination project would provide profit for United Water at the expense of the rate payers and the environment. The application by United Water fails to thoroughly examine sustainable water options. There are better choices that can strengthen our economy while protecting our environment, including an energetic program of water conservation and efficiency, storm water recapture to reduce flooding and enhance recharge of aquifers, water reuse, sustainable land-use planning, and an active program to preserve open space.  For these and many other reasons too numerous to mention in this statement I am strongly in opposition to the proposed desalination plant and respectfully request the New York State DOS to reject this proposal. Instead, I propose that NYSDOS allow more time to consider other options. I propose possibly allowing a neutral third party value engineer provide analysis with input from the citizens, environmentalists, specialists in the field, and rate payers to come up with the best solution for Rockland County’s water needs. There needs to be full transparency and input from all the concerned citizens of Rockland County. I thank you for your time and attention and I look forward to submitting my comments on the DEIS to the NYSDEC.

Sincerely,

Richard C. Feminella, P.E.

Cc: Governor Andrew Cuomo
State Senator David Carlucci
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee
Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski
Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef
all County Legislators & Town & Village Councilmembers