BY MICHAEL RICONDA
NEW CITY – The Rockland County Legislature voted Tuesday evening to request the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation schedule a hearing on United Water’s proposed desalination plant, as well as to reopen proceedings requiring United Water to develop water supply source plans.
The vote came after public input from community members and representatives of various activist organizations, most of whom opposed the building of the plant.
Legislators voted almost unanimously for the measures. The resolutions do not suggest a final vote on the issue, but open the door to further public comment in an issues conference and a formal judicial examination of the benefits and costs of a plant in an adjudicator hearing.
Legislator Alden H. Wolfe said it was in the best interest of the public to allow further public proceedings. “Whether you agree or disagree, shutting down the public voice is a terrible, terrible thing,” he said.
Legislator Frank Sparaco voted the same way despite serious doubts about the plant stemming from his personal experience drinking desalinated water while serving aboard a Navy vessel.
Legislator Jay Hood was the sole legislator who voted against the measure, arguing that the issue has been drawn out long enough. Hood went on to say that active steps had to be taken to prevent water scarcity by building the plant or exploring alternatives in the event that United Water’s plan is deemed unsafe by the DEC.
“This has been going on, and I figured that it had to be ended at some point,” Hood said. “But if it’s not clean water, obviously it’s not going to be built.”
Legislator Murphy abstained due to conflicts of interest related to United Water’s charitable donations to organizations he has represented in the past.
The vote on the public hearing provoked heated reactions from attendees. Those who spoke expressed a strong sentiment against United Water with accusations of past improprieties. Many also vented their frustrations over the legislature’s openness to proceed in a direction that may lead to an approval of the plant.
Specific concerns included a broad range of uncertainties related to the quality of Hudson River water, prevalent among which was the proximity of the proposed plant to the Indian Point nuclear power plant. Many feared possible harm from radioactive leaks into the river.
Other concerns included contamination from future hydrofracking, the impact of water quality on house prices and residency, and safer and more cost-effective alternatives such as drainage repairs.
Among the speakers was Hayley Carlock, an environmental advocacy attorney with Scenic Hudson. Carlock said that desalination is typically a last resort even in areas such as California and the Midwest where water scarcity is more common. Hence, Carlock argued that hearings are absolutely necessary to permit thorough investigation.
United Water proposed the desalination plant in 2010 to address the predicted scarcity issues linked to Lake DeForest’s insufficient water capacity. It is uncertain if the DES will grant the legislature’s request for more public proceedings.