Draconian Water Rate Hike, Sandy Recovery & Jessup Ridge Discussed at Stony Point Board Meeting

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

Tuesday night the Stony Point Town Board addressed its continuing opposition to United Water’s recent 28.9 percent rate increase proposal.

Stony Point has joined with the four other towns, the Rockland Solid Waste Management Authority and the Village of Sloatsburg to form a Municipal Consortium (subject to the approval of each town board) to fight against the severe increase. Rockland County is also considering joining.

Daniel Duthie, the attorney hired to represent the interests of the Municipal Consortium, explained that the almost 29 percent rate increase reflected United Water’s unjustified expectation of a 10.8 percent return on equity. He asserted that a return closer to 8 percent, such as Con Edison was recently granted, represented a more realistic expectation.

Duthie also pointed to the inequitable cost-sharing between New York and New Jersey for the Lake Deforest reservoir. Right now New Jersey receives most of the Lake Deforest water while New Yorkers bear most of the costs. The contract is set to expire next month, however, and a new contract with a more equitable cost division would address some of United Water’s concerns about covering increased productions costs.

Duthie also briefly addressed the additional 8 percent surcharge United Water is seeking to implement in October. This surcharge, unlike the rate increase, is directly linked to United Water’s plans for the desalination plant. Duthie pointed out that it is very unusual for a utility company to ask for an improvement surcharge prior to the construction of the improvement. Additionally, he predicted that the total surcharge along with the requested 28.9 percent rate increase will ultimately result in close to an untenable 50 percent rate increase for Rockland residents over a period of years.

After Duthie’s presentation, the board unanimously voted to approve joining the Consortium, subject to special counsel signing off.

With regard to Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, the board declared itself lead agency and set the date of September 10 for the public hearing on the Zoning Relief Act amending the Town Code to change the base flood elevation numbers to reflect FEMA’s recommendations and New York State’s new requirements. The new law would require a base elevation in flood zones of 11 or 12 feet plus the 2 feet as required by the state.

The changes would also include a provision that homeowners whose houses were demolished due to Hurricane Sandy would be able to rebuild in the footprint of the former home without having to get prior Zoning Board approval, even if a variance ordinarily would have been required. This would alleviate some of the burden these families have borne since the hurricane and allow them to rebuild and get back into their homes much more quickly.

The board also addressed the request, by David Zigler representing the Jessup Ridge West developers, that the town commit to accepting dedication of the drainage structure in Jessup Ridge prior to completion of the improvements, although still subject to the town’s approval. When questioned why such a request, Zigler explained that originally all subdivision improvements except the roads were to be handled by a homeowners’ association. However, no association currently—or has ever—exists, thus prompting the developer’s request.

Town Engineer Kevin Maher and Planning Board Chairman Thomas Gubitosa briefly verified that the developers have been making satisfactory progress with regard to drainage improvements. Councilwoman Luanne Konopko, however, questioned the wisdom of committing to dedication prior to the completion of the work, since doing so might remove motivation for the developers to complete the improvements. Zigler, however, asserted that pressure from the homeowners for services would provide sufficient impetus for the developers to bring all improvements up to town specifications. Supervisor Geoff Finn concurred.

During public input resident Susan Filgueras expressed concern about NRG’s tax challenge for the Haverstraw Bowline plant announced last week. Finn responded that Stony Point is equally concerned and outraged and is proceeding to do what it can to oppose the rate cut, since the company’s continuing rate decreases have cost the school district, county and state millions of dollars.

Resident George Potanovic Jr. of S.P.A.C.E. expressed concern about a number of omissions from the Master Plan final impact statement posted on the town website. Finn responded that the board has not even looked at the FGIS yet, and shortly thereafter the board tabled consideration of the FGIS for the Master Plan and Zoning Amendments until the next meeting on September 10.