Facing a looming August 6 deadline to form a sewer district in Phoenicia, uncertainty about the scope of the proposed sewer plant, and public outcry against the project, the Shandaken town board has opted to ask New York City for an extension on the project rather than proceed with plans to hold a public referendum.
In a special meeting held today, the town board voted unanimously to draft a letter by the end of the week to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), asking that the August 6 deadline be extended.
The deadline is included in contracts between the town of Shandaken, the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC), and the DEP, written to govern the awarding of a block grant to the town that would cover most of the costs of designing and building a sewer plant to serve Phoenicia.
In their most recent action, the town appears to be taking the CWC's advice. Shortly before the meeting, CWC executive director Alan Rosa sent a letter to Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley. In it, Rosa writes that he believes there is no way for the town to meet the August 6 deadline, and that the town should ask for an extension:
...given the strict requirement for formation of a sewer district withing six (6) months of moving forward and the recent vote of the Town Board, it is all but impossible to form a sewer district by August 6, 2012. CWC does not believe that any further action by us could assist the Town in forming a sewer district by August 6. CWC respectfuly recommends the Town contact NYCDEP regarding an extension of the August 6th deadline.
Rosa's letter, which is embedded below, appears to leave the door open for the CWC to stay involved in the project if the town gets an extension. Last week, Rosa told the Watershed Post unequivocally that the CWC would no longer be involved with the effort to build a sewer plant for Phoenicia:
"The failure of the Shandaken Town Board to pass the resolution to move forward means that the CWC is effectively done with this project," he said.
For its part, the DEP has played its cards close to the vest. Asked recently whether the May 7 vote by the town meant that the Phoenicia sewer project was effectively dead, DEP spokesman Corey Chambliss had only this to say:
DEP is aware of the decision by the Shandaken town board on Monday regarding a possible wastewater project for Phoenicia, and is considering all options.
The block grant from the DEP currently contains about $15.8 million -- down from an original amount of $17.2 million, some of which has been spent on designing a sewer system only to have the proposed sewer district voted down by Phoenicia residents in 2007. Since then, the costs of building the originally-planned project have ballooned to $24 million, and there is no longer enough money in the grant to build a plant that would serve the entire district.
Last October, Lamont Engineers, hired to design the project by the CWC, proposed to build a partial system with the remaining grant funds. The plant, the engineers said, could be expanded to serve the entire district in the future if more money became available. (For more background on the proposed system, see our October 24, 2011 story about the Lamont plan.)
Below: A letter from CWC director Alan Rosa to Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley, May 15, 2012.