Residents Question Orangetown Over Mystery Sewer Lines

Critic says responses are evasive

BY ROBERT KNIGHT
CITY EDITOR
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES

Two Tappan Residents are questioning Orangetown officials about the existence of old sewer lines at an abandoned Army base on Western Highway, and are not satisfied with answers the town has given them so far, claiming the responses are more mystifying than clarifying.

Resident Shelly Morgan presented the Town Board with a list of questions at the council meeting Tuesday evening, but was far from satisfied with the responses he received.

He and former Sewer Department employee Gail Raffaele have been challenging the town’s involvement with the site, and in particular its involvement in supposedly abandoned sewer lines that once served the headquarters unit of an Army Nike missile base located there, opposite Independence Avenue.

Both residents have filed official FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests to the town demanding answers to their questions, and both assert that the town has either refused to give an answer, or has provided such confusing and complicated responses that they are unintelligible to the average reader.

Raffaele has long challenged Orangetown over an allegedly sewer pipe which she claims appears to run beneath her rear yard, through an undeclared easement. She lives at 112 Lafayette Road in Tappan, at the corner of Western Highway, in a former Nike Site officers housing unit she purchased from Orangetown a decade ago. She says the sewer line, which the town denied existed for many years, connected the headquarters section of the base with her housing section; to the town’s sewer treatment plant a mile or two away, off Route 303.

Morgan claims that town sewer department workers have been performing illegal work at the old headquarters base; on property they don’t own and on a sewer line they claim doesn’t exist. He says he wants to know under what authority they are operating, and who is paying the cost of whatever work it is they are doing there.

Sewer Questions
When Raffaele bought her home from Orangetown her deed and map indicated no sewer line behind her house, she says, and no easement, right-of-way or any other indication that such a line ever existed. In an earlier squabble with the town over her property line, she installed what the town claimed was an illegal fence, to mark her boundary along Western Highway. That battle ended up in court, with both sides claiming victory at various points.

She is now in a continuing war with the town over the alleged sewer line, which she labeled in a FOIL letter as “a rumored sewer line crossing my property to the rear of my dwelling.” Responses from the town have ranged from a finding that “no records exist” showing such a pipe to one saying the alleged “line is not on my property” to a more recent DVD “showing a deteriorated pipe which allegedly connects to the manhole on my neighbor’s property.”

She notes that subdivision maps of the former military housing site and individual survey maps of each home site prepared by Orangetown at the time it sold the lots “do not show a pipe or an easement running through the back portion of my lot” which she says means the town was effectively abandoning the pipe, if it indeed existed. The pipe has hosted no flow of sewage at least since the Army moved its reserve center from Western Highway to Route 303, Raffaele says, meaning whatever pipe is there, if there is one, is now hers to do with what she pleases.

And since the town refuses to provide her with acceptable answers about that pipe’s existence, Raffaele put the town on notice on May 23 that if they do not respond with the data she has requested within two weeks “I will proceed to have the pipe removed and finally put this matter to rest.”

Town Response Sparse
The town has not yet responded to Raffaele, who has not attended any recent meetings in person to press her case, but has worked through the mail and FOIL requests.

Morgan did appear Tuesday, however, and refused to relinquish the microphone when his three-minute time limit expired because he said he wasn’t finished, and hadn’t yet received an answer to any of his questions.

Morgan said he personally observed an Orangetown sewer truck enter the Home for Heroes site at 335 Western Highway on March 21 of this year. Since it is private property, owner by the non-profit Home for Heroes, he wanted to know specifically who authorized the truck to enter the property and so work, what work was done, why, and at whose expense. He demanded to know how many times this has been done there, and demanded they give him copies of the truck’s log book, showing exactly what work was done on each occasion. If work was done for Home for Heroes, it should be billed to them, and not to the taxpayers of Orangetown, Morgan asserted.

Morgan has filed several FOIL requests and exasperated at his lack of success in responses, Morgan showed up Tuesday evening in his wheelchair and refusing to relinquish the microphone. When a three-minute bell sounded, he stood his ground and challenged the council to physically remove him before he got an answer to his questions.

Silence Attempt Fails
At this point councilman Denis Troy moved to end the public comment portion of the meeting, and move on to the council’s business agenda. Supervisor Andy Stewart had to exercised his authority to regain control of the meeting. He agreed with Troy that the board wasn’t legally obligated to respond to Morgan’s questions in open session, but offered to set up a separate meeting the next day for all concerned parties, or let sewer director Joseph Moran attempt to respond on the spot, avoiding the need for a separate session.

Moran replied briefly that it was he who authorized the truck and crew to inspect Home for Heroes on March 21. He did not explain what the crew did, other than “perform an inspection.”

Stewart indicated he was satisfied by the response but Morgan insisted after the meeting that his quest for answers wasn’t done yet, and he would continue until he was satisfied that taxpayers were not being billed for providing town services to a private agency on their private property.

He also indicated after the meeting that he feels Troy is closely allied with Murphy, and that the two men are acting in concert to prevent him from finding out too much information about Murphy’s Home for Heroes project. Morgan has opposed the project from its concept, claiming it is really a front by Murphy to create low-income public housing in Orangetown, using veterans as a sympathetic door opener.

Troy went into executive session with the rest of the board following Tuesday evening’s meeting, and was not available for further comment. Supervisor Stewart said the meeting was necessary to discuss the board’s ongoing contract negotiations with Orangetown’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, representing the police union.

Other Business
The public meeting began at 7:30 p.m. with a presentation by town Highway Superintendent James Dean on his department’s “Streets Named for Our Fallen Heroes” program (see separate story). The board also recognized the entire Pearl River Varsity Girls Basketball team and its coach for winning the league, section 1, and regional New York State championships this year, and coming in second in the entire state, losing only the final game just moments before the council meeting. Each girl was presented with a certificate of appreciation and a standing ovation from the audience.

During a short business meeting the council voted to:
– Approve aiding the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life rally in Pearl River on June 15 by providing barricades, trash barrels and portable toilets for the event at the Central Avenue Field.
– Adopt a computer system security breach notification policy with New York State, agreeing to notify anyone possibly adversely affected by any breach of town computer systems or networks.
– Grant a certificate of registration to do sewer work for property owners in Orangetown to the Dutra Excavating & Sewer, Inc. of Montvale, NJ.
– Increase the town’s 2012 budget by $15,048 to show a grant obtained by the town justice court to purchase new desks and filing cabinets.
– Award a bid to chestnut Ridge Transportation of Spring Valley for $348 per bus per full day to provide transportation to the town youth summer camp in Tappan, and $246 per bus for am and pm only service. They were the only bidder.
– Award a bid to Creative Touch Landscaping of Pearl River to mow the grass at the town-owned Rockland Psychiatric Center campus for $17,571.78 for spring and fall cleanups and monthly mowing. They were the lowest qualified bidder.
– Accept with regret the retirement resignation of parks employee Vincent Malfitano, after 25+ years of service. Malfitano declined a retirement party, certificate of appreciation or other honor.
– Appoint provisional employee Karen Jahnes to the permanent position of principal clerk typist in the Highway Department.
– Appoint Andrew Eanniello to the position of court constable, part-time, in the town justice court, at $20 per hour, to serve as an alternate when the need arises. Orangetown has several constables, but only two work at the same time.
– Authorize an employee of the town engineering department to attend a state-mandated training course at a cost of $600.
– Authorize the Town Clerk’s office to accept and file several legal documents including contracts with outside agencies.

During the public comment portion of the meeting three people spoke for three minutes each.
– Esta Baitler of the Kathy Lukens Community Residence on Route 340 in Sparkill spoke on the need for sidewalks on that street and on Oak Tree Road in Palisades, with Supervisor Andy Stewart responding that they should get built “within our lifetime.”
– Eileen Larkin of Palisades suggested the town better publicize the availability of low-cost housing in Orangetown at the Cortwood Village complex in Orangeburg, where one-bedroom units rent for about $850 per month, far below the Rockland County average. Town officials agreed the complex is little known, but said it has a waiting list for apartments; meaning publicity may not be needed.
– Shelly Morgan of Tappan spoke about sewers at the Home for Heroes property on Western Highway, referred to earlier in this article.