That was the crux of a more than two hour sparring match between RUPCO’s attorney Michael Moriello and some, but not all members of the town board, while a decidedly anti-RUPCO audience of about 60 people vocally played the chorus in the drama.
And, if it turns out that town supervisor Jeff Moran is correct and that the decision to allow the project the municipal services does lie in the board’s hands, RUPCO may be in for a rough go, as two town board members, Jay Wenk and Cathy Magarelli, unequivocally declared that they would not be in favor, while a third, Terri Rosenblum, bristled at the tone of a RUPCO memo, calling it “incredibly threatening.” Moran, who was non-committal on whether he’d favor the hookup, nonetheless argued vigorously that the town board does indeed have the discretion. Councilman Bill McKenna, who said that he favors the project, cautioned the town board to gather more information on all questions, and the legalities and physical capabilities of the systems, before making a decision.
Moran began the session by describing the facilities. “Our water system is 60 years old, and it serves only members of the water district…we’re a little behind in taking care of our water system. It works OK, but not to the capacity it should…” He said that the wastewater system, for which he said the town has no “as builts” (the final documents that show what was actually constructed) — handles 80,000 gallons of grey water per day, and that it might handle 215,000 per day. “The water comes out pure. But on October 1 (the day of the extreme rain that cause floods) we ran 600,000 gals through the system. The more we overload our system, the more compromised the system becomes. It’s an old system, it’s got flaws in its design and we’re concerned about its capacity.”
He acknowledged that RUPCO has obtained Planning Board approval for the project, and that it had come to the town board to see if it is possible to hook up. But he also pointed out that “In the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) they have said they are prepared to build an on-site septic system and drill their own wells.”
At that point, Wenk spoke. “I’m glad RUPCO is prepared to do their own on-site (sewer system) and hopefully drill their own wells. I don’t see where we have anywhere near the capacity at the plant. In the case of sewerage coming in, it could just about contain the amount of sludge coming in…anything over, we couldn’t handle. I am not in favor of either sewer or water hookups for RUPCO.”
After a ten minute public comment session in which each of the five two minute speakers rapped RUPCO, Moriello called the approval “pedestrian and ministerial…I believe it’s the province of town departments. Historically, those decisions as to whether this project is in the district were made many years ago.”
Passing out copies of the March, 2009 memo, he said, “there’s a tremendous amount of documentation in the record. We do pay district taxes, maps show we are in the district, historical evidence shows that we are in the district. The Planning Board delved into these issues.”
In the document, RUPCO points to Woodstock’s Hamlet Sewer law, which says, in Article X, “Those properties which are now divided by the District boundary line shall be considered to be wholly served by the district.” A small corner of the property on which the project is proposed, though not the building site itself, is within the sewer district boundaries. And RUPCO recalls a New York State Court of Appeals decision that holds that “payment of sewer taxes upon a parcel situate partially outside of a sewer district by virtue of being wholly outside of an adjacent town is, in and of itself, enough to compel district service, absent demonstratable problems with the sewer system or public health.”
Moran countered by quoting from town law that the “‘town shall not sell [water] when it is not sufficient.’ If we think we know it will compromise the firefighting capacity (a note of concern was expressed in the DEIS to this effect), then we have a problem with the water system. As to water and sewer…the town is under no specific obligation. The determination of being in the district — has that property contributed significantly to the upkeep? I would say, based on that, absolutely not. Has the property paid a significant amount of taxes? The records show absolutely not.”
Magarelli questioned if the town has enough water. “We had to shut the water off this summer. There is enough water, but is it usable? Why should I, as an elected official, put [the townspeople] in jeopardy with a water shortage?” She spoke of the possible expense of refurbishing the water system. “If you want water, you should be footing the bill for that, not the local taxpayers. Wouldn’t it be better if you had your own water? I’m not for having RUPCO hooking up.”
The portions of the memo to which Rosenblum took exception included two and a half pages that took aim at former councilman Chris Collins, seeking his resignation from the town board, or referral to the town’s ethics board, for voicing his opinions in an attached letter that opposed the project and called for RUPCO to help the town construct affordable housing in another fashion. RUPCO’s memo pointed, in one section, to the Fair Housing Act, that “a political subdivision that purports to require or permit any action that would be a discriminatory housing practice…shall be invalid…” and says “in this regard, a developer may establish a violation under the Fair Housing act by showing either that the local government’s actions were motivated by an intent to discriminate…” When Rosenblum called the memo “threatening,” Moriello apologized and pointed out that it was aimed at Collins.
“I felt threatened that night, too,” said Wenk, who was on the board at the time.
Again, Moriello apologized. “My intent was not to insult you. The letter was over a year ago, and the comments were made to Mr. Collins. I had to take a position. I asked for Mr. Collins to step down from the board. I never thought it was fair for a board to pre-judge an issue. It’s not my intention to threaten you guys. The [parts] about Mr. Collins do not apply to you guys.”
Completing the scenario, Collins, who apparently was following the proceedings on local access television, appeared shortly afterward, and during a session in which the public was allowed to ask questions, launched into a defense of his own letter, in which he called the proposed project, not a “‘sensible growth’ model because it isn’t a Woodstock solution to a Woodstock problem. It is a RUPCO solution to a Woodstock problem.”
One other sticking point appeared to be the fact that plans call for the sewer and water hookups to cross wetlands, or what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls ESA’s (Environmentally Sensitive Areas). Such a hookup would require an EPA waiver, which the town would be required to file. Moriello told the trustees that all the paperwork was in place at the EPA and all that was required was, again, a ‘ministerial’ act of activating it, perhaps by the town’s water or sewer superintendent. But it was acknowledged that it would take an action by the town to achieve the waiver, and that the town retained the option of not making the application.
Moran summed up. “RUPCO has a good reputation. Its record is very good, nobody has an issue with its record as an organization. But the question is, is it proper to allow RUPCO’s Woodstock Commons to hook up to our sewer system and water system? To me, it’s not ministerial. It does rest with us. We will certainly talk to engineers. I can’t tell you how long that will take. We may have to invite estimates to expand. At this point I can’t say its fine for RUPCO to hook up.”
Moriello countered. “You have the record before you, and you should make the decision now.”
Moran gave his view. “Things change in those six years. Not only has the personnel changed, but facts on the ground have changed. The Planning Board put RUPCO through an amazing gauntlet, but it didn’t come to the Town Board until now. My understanding of the DEIS is that RUPCO is prepared to deal with its own systems. Knowing that, we don’t feel that approving or denying will have anything to do with whether you can go forward.”
Asked after the meeting if RUPCO was prepared to build its own sewer system and drill its own wells, RUPCO Director of Community Involvement Guy Kempe, was circumspect. “I don’t think we’re exploring alternatives today,” he said. “We’re in a process.”
And he offered a comment on the evening’s proceedings. “That was quite a remarkable meeting,” Kempe said. “It’s like we went to a town board meeting and a planning board public hearing broke out.”++