NYS DEC Okays Lead Agency For Proposed Water Bottling Project

Oct 24, 2014

There is growing concern in the Hudson Valley about the main water source for Kingston and whether it should be bottled. And today, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation designated a lead agency for an environmental review process of the proposal. At least one group is disappointed in the decision.

In a letter dated October 24, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation says it has no objection to the Town of Ulster Town Board assuming lead agency status for a water bottling project. The lead agency status is for SEQR, or the state environmental quality review process for a proposed water bottling facility from California-based Niagara Bottling.  This comes after environmental group Riverkeeper was among those who recently penned a letter to the DEC requesting that DEC itself take on lead agency status. Kate Hudson is watershed program director for Westchester-based Riverkeeper.

“We are, of course, disappointed that they didn’t decide to exercise their right to be lead agency. We think they would have been the best qualified in that role,” says Hudson. “We recognize that DEC has many demands on their staff and limited resources. We hope that they will remain actively engaged in this environmental review process as an involved agency. We think obviously based on the number of areas in which they have permitting jurisdiction responsibilities that they should remain actively engaged.”

She says Riverkeeper’s status as a stakeholder and interested party does not permit the group to challenge DEC’s approval of the Town of Ulster as lead agency. The Town of Woodstock had also requested DEC take lead agency status. Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley says that having DEC as lead agency would have killed the project with a likely drawn-out timeframe.

The proposed project for the Town of Ulster is for a 415,000 square-foot facility in the former IBM campus. The project calls for the proposed sale of up to 1.75 million gallons per day of Kingston municipal water from Cooper Lake Reservoir in Woodstock to the project site in the Town of Ulster.

Opponents have been vocal. A petition on moveon.org is asking for signatures from those who feel that no water bottling company should have rights to take water from Cooper Lake, which is the water source for the City of Kingston and Woodstock; they say water is for people, not corporate interests. There were 2,282 signatures as of October 24.

Rebecca Martin is founder of KingstonCitizens.org, a community-based organization committed to improving the quality of life of Kingston residents through accountability and transparency between the people and their local government.

“What I’d like to see happen is a transparent and fair SEQR process,” say Martin. “And I think that’s what most of us would want whether we’re supportive of bottling water or not.”

Here’s Town of Ulster Supervisor Quigley.

“First communications that I received from the opposition demanded that the town suspend SEQR, stop SEQR outright, says Quigley. “So how can one argue that a process is not transparent when it hasn’t even started.

City of Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo takes umbrage at opponents from the outside, who he notes have been showing up at meetings.

“It’s very perplexing to have non-city residents as far away as from New York City and New Paltz coming in here and dictating what will be done with the asset, our water.”

He adds:

“But I understand the opponents with SEQR, I understand the bond, I understand they’re worried about supply, I mean the cost of repair and the supply, and the plastic, and the effect on the environment, and the business practices,” says Gallo. “But, at this point, the information I have with respect to supply, with respect to capacity, with respect to the SEQR, with respect to the cost of repairs, it appears that the initiative would benefit the public.”

Some of those concerned say Kingston’s water should be used for supplying taxpaying residents, not for private companies to bottle and sell.