October 17, 2012
Copyright © 2012
Mid-Hudson News Network, a division of Statewide News Network, Inc.
Rockland County Legislature calls for desalination plant hearings
NEW CITY – The Rockland County Legislature voted to request the State Department of Environmental Conservation to schedule an issues conference and adjudicatory hearing on United Water’s proposed desalination plant and reopen proceedings requiring United Water to develop water supply source plans.
The vote came after public participation by residents and representatives of various activist organizations, most of whom opposed the building of the plant without detailed consideration of its impact and alternatives.
Legislators voted almost unanimously for the measures, arguing that though serious concerns existed, continued opportunities for public input and a careful, detailed examination of the facts was necessary for the DEC to come to a conclusion.
The resolutions do not suggest a final vote on the issue, but open the door to further public comment in an issues conference and a formal judicial examination of the benefits and costs of a plant in an adjudicatory hearing.
Legislator Alden Wolfe said that despite the serious concerns, it was in the best interest of the public to allow further proceedings and come to objective conclusions.
“Whether you agree or disagree, shutting down the public voice is a terrible, terrible thing,” Wolfe said.
Legislator Joseph Meyers voted for the measures despite his concerns over a United Water statement rejecting tapping water in Montebello because it would be faster and cheaper to build the plant, while Legislator Frank Sparaco voted the same way despite doubts stemming from his personal experience drinking desalinated water while he was serving aboard a Navy vessel.
In contrast, Legislator Jay Hood was the sole legislator who voted against the measure, arguing that the issue had been drawn out long enough and that active steps had to be taken to prevent water scarcity by building the plant or exploring alternatives in the event that United Water’s plan is deemed unsafe by the DEC.
“This has been going on, and I figured that it had to be ended at some point,” Hood said. “But if it’s not clean water, obviously it’s not going to be built.”
Legislator Murphy abstained due to conflicts of interest related to United Water’s charitable donations to organizations he has represented in the past.
The public hearing provoked heated reactions from attendees, with strong statements against United Water, accusations of past improprieties such as failing to notify the public of irradiated drinking water in Dover Township, New Jersey and frustrations with the legislature’s openness to proceed in a direction which may lead to an approval of the plant.
Specific concerns included a broad range of uncertainties related to the quality of Hudson River water, proximity to Indian Point and the possibility of radioactive leaks of tritium strontium 90 such as those which occurred in the past, groundwater contamination from hydrofracking, the impact of water quality on house prices and residency, and safer and more cost-effective alternatives such as drainage repairs.
Among the speakers was Hayley Carlock, an environmental advocacy attorney with Scenic Hudson. Carlock argued that considering that desalination is typically a last resort even in areas such as California and the Midwest where water scarcity is a common occurrence, hearings are absolutely necessary to permit thorough investigation.
United Water proposed the desalination plant in 2010 to address the predicted scarcity issues linked to Lake DeForest’s insufficient water capacity. It has pushed the plant over alternatives such as tapping into other reservoirs, limiting water going out of state, improving pipe infrastructure and flow efficiency, and enacting water recycling programs which would not draw from the Hudson.
It is uncertain if the DEC will grant the legislature’s request for the procedures and it is possible that they will reject the requests, leaving future action on the plant uncertain.
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