More than 40 people gathered on the steps of the Rockland County Courthouse Monday afternoon to speak out against United Water’s proposed desalination plant in Haverstraw.
At the press conference, the Rockland Water Coalition handed over petitions with more than 24,000 signatures from Rockland residents opposed to the plant to State Senator David Carlucci. Carlucci is going to take the petitions with him to Albany.
“We have to put people first and make sure the water that we’re drinking is safe and something we feel confident that our children can have, and future generations can feel confident and safe in drinking,” he said.
The coalition formed in direct response to the proposed plant, according to George Potanovic, a member of the group. The plan was first proposed in 2007 with intent on producing drinking water for Rockland residents by treating Hudson River water to supplement the county’s potable water supply. The following year, the coalition formed and is made up of 23 local and regional environmental and civic organizations, such as Riverkeeper, Clearwater, Scenic Hudson, Rockland AARP and New York State Sierra Club.
“For the last four years, the Water Coalition has carefully watched the progress of this proposal through environmental review process, through the SEQR environmental review process, and we’ve fully participated in that review. There’s been a number of issues that we’ve raised, both economic [and] environment issues that we think are very significant and issues that were not evident to many people when the proposal was first made,” Potanovic said Monday. “We have submitted these comments through the environmental review process in response to the DEIS, or the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. And that comment period ended on April 20th. So we have participated as much as we can in the environmental review process, and what we want to know now is that our legislators and the governor in Albany are aware there are 24,000 people that are standing with us in Rockland County who have signed petitions saying that they oppose the desalination plant.”
The coalition has a few issues with the proposed plant, including they feel it would discourage water conservation and add to unsustainable overdevelopment. Rockland County Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell talked about the legislature’s comprehensive county plan from 2010, which she would like to see taken into account.
“Haverstraw Bay has to be protected for future generations and that it should become an estuary learning sector,” she said. “Also in our comprehensive plan, we listed a whole litany of water supply recommendations and the first major recommendation is to develop a county water policy and the second is to promote conservation.”
Another issue the coalition has with the plant is they don’t think the added jobs will be worth it when factoring in the costs of improving the infrastructure, expanded sewer treatment. Uniter Water’s impact statement says it will create 10 permanent jobs and temporary positions to construct the plant.
She said she’d like to see more of an effort for water conservation opposed to simply looking to get more water into the county.
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee said she’d like to see a conference to provide more information to Rockland residents about the proposed plant. She also congratulated the group for getting so many signatures.
“A group that didn’t have any financial resources did this in a way that really is the basis of our democracy and I’m very impressed with this,” she said. “We should all be impressed with the community involvement and the voice of the community that we have here today.”
There was a small one-person counter-protest going on while the coalition met on Monday. Haverstraw resident John Taggart stood on the courthouse steps about 15 people away from the group holding up signs that read “build the desal plant now” and “a drought proof consistent water supply.”
“I am very much in favor of the plant,” he said. “I don’t think there’s enough people speaking out in favor, so I decided to come out today in support of it.”
While Taggart said it was a bit lonely out on the steps by himself, he added he thinks the plant will do more good than harm for the county, and it will bring in jobs and generate real estate tax revenues. He also thinks it can have a positive impact on the Hudson River.
“It people are drinking from it, maybe they’d be more inclined to take care of it too,” he said.
The only speaker to acknowledge Taggart was Pomona Deputy Mayor Rita Louie.
“This is a better example than I could’ve hoped for,” she said. “There’s 40 of us here and just one person over there. This represents clearly how Rockland feels about this issue.”