In an August 12 ruling, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) rejected an August 2 proposal by the town to conduct limited, four-hour pump tests of its wells and take other steps in order to receive a DEC permit for an expansion of the municipal water district. The expansion would incorporate existing out-of-district water customers and also enable the RUPCO project to receive water from the town system.
In rejecting the proposal, which the town submitted in response to conditions attached to a permit issued by the agency on June 10, the DEC deemed the limited tests insufficient to demonstrate the municipal system’s capacity for expansion. Instead, the agency instructed the town to perform more extensive — and, presumably, much more costly —
testing of the system’s seven wells.
The DEC’s standard protocols for such an analysis include a 72-hour pump test of each well. The water district currently serves approximately 725 customers, who would bear the cost of any tests. In an August 16 interview, Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran said that the cost of the more extensive tests could exceed $100,000 — an expense that he was unwilling to impose on district customers.
“As the town supervisor, and speaking for the taxpayers of the water district, I can’t see how it would be fair to spend $100,000 to extend the water system,” said Moran, who previously cited that six-figure sum in the town’s August 2 proposal to the DEC. “To put such a giant slap on taxpayers in one year would be opprobrious. I think that we could justify [more limited] testing for [a cost of] around $15,000, but $100,000 would be very difficult.”
The supervisor continued: “Since RUPCO is now the property owner [of the project site], we will inform RUPCO that the town can’t guarantee water service and RUPCO must prepare an alternate plan for water service. The DEC has called Woodstock’s capability of supplying water into question. I believe that the situation is straightforward, but I am in contact with our town attorney to ensure that the town proceeds in the most legally valid way.”
The cost estimates for water tests are “not firm numbers,” but approximations provided by engineers who have studied the town water system, Moran noted in an August 17 e-mail. He added, “Any permit for an expanded water district would, according to the DEC, require this [more extensive] level of testing; therefore, we are not contemplating such an expenditure at this time, nor are we currently considering expanding the district to serve any other additional users.”
‘Room for clarity’
In an August 17 interview RUPCO’s executive director, Kevin O’Connor, questioned the rationale for the DEC ruling and suggested that a meeting between DEC and town officials, which RUPCO would be pleased to attend, was in order. Meanwhile, he added, RUPCO had no plans to develop a procedure whereby the housing project would supply its own water from wells drilled on the site.
“First of all, the permit issued by the DEC on June 10 authorized an extension of the water supply to Woodstock Commons from existing, approved sources,” said O’Connor, alluding to the municipal system. “We have a DEC permit, issued to the town of Woodstock, for a hookup to the water system. The DEC [in its recent ruling] apparently went beyond state Board of Health recommendations for water testing. There is room for clarity about what the DEC wants from the town, which is possibly open to negotiation. Whatever the DEC wants, regardless of our project, the town still must provide [for an extension of its water district].”
RUPCO broke ground on the Woodstock Commons development on July 22, following a six-year environmental review by the town Planning Board and recent procedural maneuvering that culminated in the issuance of a building permit for the project, whose 28-acre site lies behind the Bradley Meadows shopping plaza at the eastern end of the hamlet.
The town’s August 2 proposal to the DEC included not only a provision for four-hour “step” tests of its wells, but also a formula to provide the RUPCO project’s estimated need of 12,500 gallons per day (gpd) of water by tapping a 30,000-gpd supply that was allocated in a 2000 extension of the water district to the Route 375 corridor, including the Rotron manufacturing plant. According to the town’s proposal, a recent review showed that actual consumption in the Route 375 area averaged between 4,000 and 4,500 gpd, creating a surplus for allocation elsewhere.
The ‘prudent thing’
The DEC ruling flatly rebuffed the town’s proposal on all counts. “The proposed reallocation [from the Rotron area] is immaterial to the issue at hand,” wrote Rebecca Crist, a DEC environmental analyst, in a letter to Moran. “The purpose of the pump test,” she continued, “is to demonstrate not that the Woodstock Commons project can be served, but that the town’s wells still have the total production capacity for which they are permitted. The only way to demonstrate that is by testing the wells. The proposed four-hour step tests are insufficient to demonstrate the safe yield of the wells.”
Iris York, a prominent opponent of the housing project, welcomed the DEC ruling and Moran’s reluctance to assess water district customers for the cost of testing. “I’m not surprised that the town is doing the prudent thing by not laying the cost on water district users,” said York, who has challenged the town’s issuance of the Woodstock Commons building permit in pending petitions to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“If this is true, RUPCO will have to go back to the Planning Board with a revised site plan in order to drill wells,” she said. “Maybe RUPCO should have thought of this before assuming that it had access to our water.” On a related subject, York contends that the Woodstock Commons parcel does not lie within the town’s hamlet sewer district and thus does not warrant access to municipal sewer service, which RUPCO expects to receive for the project.
O’Connor remained apparent unfazed by the recent DEC ruling. “Cooler minds should prevail,” said the RUPCO official, adding that his company, as a prospective customer of the water district, was prepared to pay its share of the cost of any water testing that was conducted. “Hopefully, we could help,” he said.++