REGIONAL – A draft order laying out what New York City has to do to rectify the browning of the Esopus Creek is roiling local political waters due to its tepid remedies. The state's Department of Environmental Protection has reached an agreement with New York City's Department of Environmental Protection over the impacts of the DEP's use of alum to reduce turbidity in its reservoir system, and the impacts it had on the Esopus, which ran chocolate-brown for ten months. Ulster County Executive Mike Hein and Legislative Chair Terry Bernardo feel the proposed solution is watered down from what is required.
The draft consent order, so called because the parties are agreeing to it without further litigation, would formalize the "interim protocol" that the DEP has been following, and assesses civil penalties of $1.55 million on the City of New York. However, only $100,000 of that is to be paid as a penalty. Another half million of the fine will be "suspended pending timely completion of the infrastructure and alum particulate removal projects," according to the DEP website. The remaining $950,000 is to be placed into escrow to fund several "environmental benefit projects" on the lower Esopus Creek, including a stream management plan and two gauges to monitor water quality.
"The dollars they are setting aside to be able to do watershed turbidity control are dollars they had to spend anyway for their filtration avoidance determination," said Hein.
New York City is one of the largest cities in the country which is not required to filter its water supply, a determination which saves it considerable money. Hein said that the amount of damage done to Ulster County's resources and residents should be determined by an independent assessment.
Bernardo also believes the process is being played out too close to the vest.
"It is never a good sign when an Albany government official is negotiating with a New York City government official about water in Ulster County," she said in a statement she released in reaction to the May 23 announcement about the consent order. In addition to requiring New York City to "pay direct economic damages to Ulster County's tourism industry," Bernardo called for Ulster County, not the City of New York, to prepare the required Environmental Impact Statement regarding the negotiated settlement. "We should be given the funds by the DEP to review the EIS or better yet, be given the resources to prepare the EIS ourselves and let DEP react to our findings, instead of us having to react to theirs."
"The people of Ulster County understand the importance of providing water to nine million neighbors, but in no way has the DEP treated us like a host, or a partner. Instead, they continue to act like an occupying nation," Hein said. "The numbers discussed are woefully inadequate — this looks like it's just the cost of doing business."
Bernardo agreed that the balance between city and county officials must shift.
"There should be a very simple premise for how DEP manages its water: don't flood us; don't dump dirty water into our creeks, which are important to our economy," her statement read.
A public comment period on the document runs through July 2, and the DEC is holding a public information from 6-8 p.m. on June 19 at SUNY New Paltz.
"I encourage everyone to participate in public comment portion, because this document as written cannot stand," Hein said. "If this document passes in its current form, it will be a travesty for our environment, and a slap in the face to citizens of Ulster County."