BY CHERYL SLAVIN
United Water’s proposed desalination plant, the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) and Stony Point’s latest draft of its Master Plan dominated the discussion Tuesday night at a town hall type meeting hosted by the Stony Point Action Committee for the Environment. The forum presented an opportunity for the public to learn and ask about these and other critical issues currently facing the community.
George Potanovic, SPACE president, opened the discussion about the desalination plant with a brief historical overview. Back in 2007, when the New York Pubic Service Commission (PSC) demanded that United Water produce a long-term water plan, the county had just faced several years of drought-like conditions prompting concerns about the availability and sustainability of Rockland’s water supply. The county had already started, in 2005, a study of the issue, but the study had not yet been completed when the PSC made its demand.
Nevertheless, United Water’s response was to propose the desalination plant. In 2008 the Rockland Water Coalition, of which SPACE is a member, formed to challenge United Water’s and the PSC’s assertions that there was a water emergency sufficient enough to warrant the extreme measure of building the expensive and questionably hazardous plant rather than turning to other less expensive and invasive measures.
After public hearings in 2012, the matter was sent for review to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). However, the public outcry against the plant’s economic and environmental impact on the community has been so great, especially after the completion in 2010 of the County’s water study, that the governor’s office has taken the unusual step of removing the issue from the DEC and sending it back to the PSC for a reassessment of the original question—what is the real water need in Rockland County? And what other, less expensive and more ecological solutions are there to address that need? The new hearings will be held on October 1 and 2.
Among other responses to the water issues at Tuesday’s meeting, Stony Point Assemblyman James Skoufis suggested the possibility of the municipality taking back control of the water supply. Town Council candidate Tom Basile asked about possible legal remedies as well as bringing in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission because of the proposed plant’s proximity to Indian Point. Town Councilman Karl Javenes also suggested that the people can make their voices heard through a referendum. Also listening in on the discussion was Town Council candidate Ed Onderdonk.
Susan Filgueras, a SPACE board member, next gave a presentation on the current state of the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE), a 1000 megawatt power line that would stretch from Quebec to New York City, primarily underneath the Hudson River. However, in response to outcry from river conservation organizations, the original design was altered and the line is now slated to run on land through Stony Point, despite the lack of an environmental impact study.
As proposed, CHPE would run through the Stony Point Battlefield, the Lovett Power Plant subterranean ash heap and within spitting distance of many homes and businesses. Filgueras also pointed out the clear potential for extreme danger should the several enormous industrial projects—the CHPE power line, the desalination plant, the CSX 26 million dollar rail extension, and a joint regional sewer plant, each of questionable safety in itself—all end up clustered within a very small area of Stony Point only 3 miles downriver from Indian Point. Nevertheless, New York State rubberstamped approval for CHPE, although after Stony Point-led pubic protest, the federal government has not yet signed off on it. Filgueras urged continued public involvement and monitoring of the situation, stating, “We are being used as industrial guinea pigs, and we must not allow Stony Point to become an infrastructure highway.”
The meeting concluded with SPACE board member Frank Collyer’s discussion about recent Master Plan developments. He urged Stony Pointers to envision the direction they’d like to see for the town’s future and to consider the possibility of establishing a true, walkable town center as a way of promoting economic viability.
At his invitation, Councilwoman Luanne Konopko, chair of the Economic Development Committee, explained that the Town Council was considering several initiatives to promote greater economic development, including establishing an “overlay zone” for mixed commercial and residential use so that Stony Point can rebuild its town center. Both Konopko and Collyer also raised the continuing question of how to maximize the economic potential of the Letchworth Village property. However, as local resident and commercial real estate broker Lynn Teager pointed out, the prohibitively high Rockland County taxes will continue to present a problem for attracting potential business.
Overall, as Collyer stressed, “Democracy is not a spectator sport. Participation is what makes it work.” In keeping with its expressed purpose of encouraging participation, SPACE will be hosting candidate debates on October 15 and 29. The public PSC desalination plant hearings will be held on October 1 and 2. For more information about these events and issues, residents can check the SPACE website, www.stonypointer.org.