Shandaken board passes Pine Hill sewer extension law

Image: The Pine Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant’s Sewer Collection System Sevice Area along Route 28. An extension to 20 additional properties, which was voted into law by the Shandaken town board last week, is indicated in orange on the map.

The Town Board of the Town of Shandaken voted unanimously to adopt a New Sewer Use Law at a special hearing and board meeting last Thursday, January 12, 2012. There were a bipartisan group of 14 residents of the town present at the hearing, most of them residents of Pine Hill (out of approximately 175 households in the hamlet).

The new sewer use law calls for an extension of the Pine Hill Sewer District to include about 20 properties that are not currently hooked up to the hamlet's wastewater treatment system.

Background on Sewer Use Law

Residents of Pine Hill pay no user fees for use of the sewage system in the hamlet due to historical circumstances shared by only a few other communities in the Catskills. All of the costs of the Pine Hill wastewater treatment plant are covered by New York City.

In 1925, an agreement was made between the then-incorporated village of Pine Hill and the City of New York in which the city assumed the obligation of building and operating the village sewer system at no cost to village residents. A related agreement in 1927 confirmed that the construction and operation of the sewer system and extensions reaffirmed that it would be at the sole cost of New York City.

Pine Hill gave up its status as an incorporated village in 1986, becoming a hamlet of the Town of Shandaken. The right of Pine Hill residents to a sewer system operated and paid for by New York City was passed to the Town of Shandaken under Article 9 of the 1925 agreement.

The 1997 watershed "Memorandum Of Agreement" (MOA) between New York City and towns in the Catskills, including Shandaken, provided that the construction of sewer extensions, where necessary, would be funded and carried out by the City.

The Pine Hill wastewater treatment plant now serves the hamlet of Pine Hill as well as the Belleayre Ski Center, but the ski center must pay user fees. If the Crossroads Ventures resort at Belleayre is eventually constructed, it would also be required to pay user fees if its sewage system connected to the plant.

For several years, the topic of extending the sewer district has been controversial, with some town residents arguing that if the law is amended, New York City will be allowed to pass some of the costs of operating the plant to the town of Shandaken or to the sewer district.

The sewer use law can be downloaded from the Town of Shandaken website's "Notices" page, under "Proposed Pine Hill Sewer Use Law."

Sewer Use Law Discussion

Pine Hill residents at the meeting were very concerned that the proposed law could eventually cause them to lose the right to free access to the sewage system owned and operated by the DEP.

Town Supervisor Rob Stanley said that the new law would not endanger the original agreement struck with New York City.

“This law is not simply an update to the existing law starting back in 1927, but will allow property owners adjacent to and east of the current Pine Hill wastewater facility free sewerage similar to the service current residents of the hamlet of Pine Hill enjoy,” he said. “Nothing contained in this current version of the law shall supersede the original agreements.”

Environmental lawyer Kevin Young, who has represented Shandaken and many other Catskill towns in negotiations with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, agreed.

"It is clear by law that the 1925 agreement holds power,” he said.

Attorney Kevin Young reassures Shandaken residents at the meeting that a new sewer use law will not endanger a nearly 90-year-old agreement with New York City to fund the Pine Hill plant.

Several who spoke at the hearing were concerned that the enforcement of the new sewer use law, which falls to the town of Shandaken, would overload the Shandaken building inspector and burden the town finances.

Chandra Lencina, a Pine Hill resident, spoke out about this worry.

“In the original agreement the Village Clerk was the enforcement officer. It is 26 years since 1986 with no enforcement officer," said Lencina. "The whole thing of the town paying for enforcement is not right, the town should not have to foot the bill, the DEP has trained people.”

Young said that he was more concerned about New York City's enforcement of the provisions of the law than he was about town enforcement. He also said that enforcement responsibility has not been a burden, citing the experience of the town of Roxbury as an example.

Passage of the Sewer Use Law

It was a surprise to some of the citizens of the town attending the hearing that the Town Board intended to vote immediately on Resolution 51, “Adopting the Sewer Use Law for the Hamlet of Pine Hill.” Kathy Nolan, who ran unsuccessfully for Town Supervisor last year, complained at the beginning of the hearing that there was no indication in the notice of the hearing on the town website that a special town board vote would be held immediately after the hearing on the proposed law.

Town Clerk Joyce Grant read the official call for the hearing aloud, and in fact there was no mention of an immediate town board vote. Doris Bartlett, the only Democrat on the Town Board, gave her opinion that it was “not clear that this was to be a voting meeting.” The Town Board and the public attendees at the meeting agreed to go forward with a vote only after attorney Young gave his opinion that if the entire town Board was present, and in session for the hearing, that it was a de facto town board meeting.

A new sewer use law for Shandaken has been under discussion for the past 14 years, so there was some impatience to actually pass the much revised draft law. The actual vote of the town board was unanimous when it was finally taken.

Resolution to Support Belleayre Ski Resort

With the sewer law passed, the town board turned to an unrelated resolution calling on New York State to restore funding to the Belleayre Ski Center, and involve more local stakeholders in decisionmaking about Belleayre.

A recent article in the Catskill Mountain News (subscription required) reported that the state Department of Environnmental Conservation, which runs the Belleayre Ski Center, has cut a promotional ticket program that local business owners believe is critical to the economic health of both the ski center and the region.

In the resolution, the Shandaken Town Board “formally requests that Belleayre be re- allocated the finances and promotional abilities that have helped the facility and the region previously," and that “any further discussions on the future of Belleayre involve local elected officials from stakeholder communities along the Rte 28 corridor and Ulster and Delaware Counties well prior to final decisions being made at the state level.”

The resolution passed unanimously with no discussion.

Upcoming Scenic Byway Meetings

The second hearing on the “Corridor Management Plan” of the Scenic Byway Initiative will be held on January 24. It is expected that attendance at this hearing will be heavily attended by both proponents and skeptics concerning the Scenic Byway.

An open meeting will also be held at the Shandaken Town Hall at 1:00PM on January 19 for a presentation about the roadside signage aspects of the Scenic Byway proposal.