Whether or not Rockland will draw a portion of its drinking water from the Hudson River in coming years was the centerpiece of a passionate public hearing Tuesday afternoon at Haverstraw Town Hall.
The meeting—which allowed residents, politicians and environmental activists to sound off on the —drew a crowd of vocal supporters and critics that crowded into standing space.
The project aims to equip Haverstraw with a desalination plant that would pump in water from the Hudson River, treat it and remove salt, and pipe it to homeowners, firehouses, hospitals and schools throughout the county.
United Water, which serves about 270,000 residents throughout Rockland and would helm the project, (DEIS) earlier this year.
The project came on the heels of a state mandate that called on Rockland to address its growing population and water shortage by 2015.
Officials said Tuesday that the desalination plant is the cheapest and most environmental-friendly of all solutions; other plans included recycling wastewater or creating a new reservoir.
Still, not all residents and lawmakers are content with the turning on the tap and having Hudson River flow out.
"It will have negative effects on Rockland's residents and environment that will be impossible to reverse," said Shirley Lasker, a Clarkstown town board member who lives in Upper Nyack. Lasker also expressed trepidation that the plant will be located about four miles from Buchanan's Indian Energy Center. Lasker said the nuclear power plant has a history of releasing tritium into the water, a radioactive isotope that is believed to cause reproductive and genetic health issues.
Lasker set up shop with about two-dozen Rocklanders in front of town hall half-an-hour before the 2 p.m. public hearing kicked off; under the banner of the , Lasker and other decried the plant and held signs that read "I Like the Hudson, But I Don't Want to Drink It."
Orangetown supervisor Andy Stewart joined the protest, calling for United Water and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to explore other options.
Michael Pointing—United Water's vice president and general manager—took the podium before the public spoke at the public hearing.
"The need for water will continue to increase," he said, noting the desalination plant will cause the least financial burden and is "the best all-around solution."
Pointing's support was echoed by Michael Kohut and John Ramundo, the mayors of Haverstraw and West Haverstraw, respectively. Kohut cited the current pilot plant in Haverstraw, which has been functioning effectively as a prototype and microcosm of the proposed plant for about one year.
"Our community could certainly use the economic benefits this project would bring," Kohut added.
Ramundo assailed several of the groups protesting the plant as "special interest groups" without Rockland's best interests in mind.
Still, the majority of speakers spoke against the desalination plant—and those who did were often met with applause. Reasons for Rocklanders' anxiety were varied: some expressed trepidation at property values decreasing and higher taxes, and others were quick to note ecological concerns.
Laurie Seeman, a members of the Rockland Water Coalition, said the Hudson's sturgeon population could be negatively affected—, too.
The public comment period will continue until April 20—Rocklanders can submit written comments to Andrea Sheeran, NYS DEC, Division of Environmental Permits, 625 Broadway, 4th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-1750. Comments can also be faxed (518.402.9168) or emailed (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Another public hearing is slated for Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Once the public comment period draws to a close, United Water will release a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).