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Water Coalition Wants Desal Plant Case Reopened

The Rockland organization brought together state and local officials with local activists

 

State and local officials came together with local activists Tuesday morning to ask the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to reopen its proceedings from 2006 on Rockland’s water supply.

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee first brought the request to the state, and last week the Rockland County Legislature voted on a resolution to support it.

On Tuesday at the county office building in New City, the Rockland Water Coalition brought together Jaffee, State Sen. David Carlucci, Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt, Chairwoman of the Rockland County Legislature Harriet Cornell, Rockland County Legislators Alden Wolfe and Doug Jobson. Former legislators Connie Coker, who is a Rockland Water Coalition member, and Bob Jackson also spoke.

Wolfe is the chair of the legislature’s environmental committee, which discussed the resolution on the 2006 rate case along with one asking that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) require an issues conference and adjudicatory hearing on the proposed Haverstraw desalination plant. The committee passed both resolutions. 

“We are asking New York state government to get it right, and I don’t think that that’s too much to ask,” Wolfe said.

“There is new information, there’s developments that occurred since the rate case was originally decided and I think that it’s important. If they’re going to be considering what is essentially a $500 water tax in Rockland County, then we need to make sure that they get it right.”

Cornell went into details about some of those developments that have occurred since the rate case. According to Cornell, the big changes since the rate case are:

  • United States Geological Survey geologist Paul Heisig released his report in which he said the aquifer is replenishing itself at a faster rate than previously believed and the primary water challenge is peak use in the summer
  • the legislature adopted a comprehensive plan in 2011 with a detailed list of water conservation methods, measures that have yet to be implemented
  • construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge and proposed desalination plant would coincide and there needs to be an analysis on the impacts of the two projects on each other and on Rockland
  • Pfeizer Global has been downsizing for the last two years, which has resulted in lower industrial water consumption
  • the public has come out mostly against the desalination plant as they’ve learned more about it

In addition to the changes, Cornell talked a bit about the similarities she sees in the desalination plant process to an issue in the county more than 20 years ago with a garbage barge the county could no longer use because of a national landfill shortage. The county sought out places for an incinerator and before purchasing one could be approved, local activists brought in figures on how the county could reduce the waste stream by recycling instead.

“With the proposed desalination plant, we seem to be on the verge again of doing something that isn’t necessary, environmentally sustainable or cost effective,” Cornell said. “Building an energy intensive desalination plant should be our last resort once every recognized method to conserve water has been exhausted. If we harness the technical and professional expertise of United Water with the passion and commitment of the public, the business community and Rockland County government, we can ensure a sustainable water future for Rockland.”

Jaffe criticized United Water for moving in one direction without considering other options.

“The Village of Suffern did a study and found that they actually have opportunity to have wells that will yield sufficient amount of water to actually supply the entire Village of Montebello,” she said. “They did this study. When they discussed this with United Water, United Water dismissed it and said, ‘Well, we’re going to have a desal plant in two years.’”

The Rockland Water Coalition’s George Potanovic said the group has obtained more than 24,000 signatures from the public on petitions opposing the plant and said one of the next steps is to try to let the governor know about the public opposition.

Many of the speakers on Tuesday talked about a possible increase on the typical water bill by as much as $500 and referred to it as a “water tax.” Carlucci said now isn’t the time to make the public pay more for something.

“We’re in a national recession and we’re talking about increasing when we already pay some of the highest utility rates in the nation,” he said. “We have to be very careful, and what I’ve been working on in the legislature with my partners in a bi-partisan approach is how do we lower the cost of energy and utility in the state of New York, not increase them. So when we hear about a $500 tax, a water tax, for our residents, that’s got to be very concerning and particularly when we’re talking about water. When we talk about energy use, technology evolves everyday, but when we talk about water, we’re always going to need water.”

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