By Rebecca Martin
Over the past four weeks KingstonCitizens.org, which was created almost a decade ago to help to connect Kingston residents to its local government so to encourage transparency and better communication, has become the hub for information for our entire region regarding the proposed Niagara Bottling Company project.
Without a doubt, the project concerns are many. But it is the potential of selling our most precious natural resource – the public’s water to a national bottling company – that is our most pressing concern. Sure, many of us would like to eliminate plastic bottles. Some may not be fond of ‘Corporate America’ (as Supervisor Quigley proclaimed last week on-air). But the real problem here….is the concept of selling off the public’s WATER to a national bottling company. You can’t compare it to beer, to milk, to soda. We are talking about millions and millions of gallons of water each day being drained from our water source. There isn’t any comparison.
Last week, the Town of Ulster amended the proposed Niagara Bottling Company SEQR ‘involved’ and ‘interested’ agencies. The NYC DEP was the only new ‘involved’ agency – and having them included is good. The others – the City of Kingston, Town of Woodstock, Town of Saugerties, Village of Saugerties, Town of Esopus and Town of Kingston were all categorized as ‘interested’ agencies.
Prior to October 16th, none of our municipalities were even listed. Good job citizens! Your hard earned efforts to show up at meetings, to write letters and to inquire ‘what can I do?’ made this critical step possible. But as a municipality impacted by the project, ‘interested’ agency may be a step, but it is just not enough.
Tonight, the City of Kingston passed through two memorializing resolutions. One of which was to request that the City of Kingston be changed from ‘interested’ agency to ‘involved’ agency. It is most appropriate that it did so.
On November 4th, the Kingston Common Council will vote on whether or not to pass this through. If it does, a communication could immediately be sent to the Town of Ulster. Hopefully, in time before the Lead Agency conversation in SEQR closes which might be on November 16th. Many of us have asked that the DEC take Lead Agency here given that originally, the DEC, Town of Ulster and Kingston Water Board were the three main ayers listed as ‘involved’ agencies. As a multi-jurisdiction project, the DEC as lead just makes sense.
Then why is including impacted agencies as ‘involved’? Looking closely at the difference between ‘Interested’ and ‘Involved’ Agencies in SEQR, an interested agency has about as ‘much authority as the public‘. However, as an involved agency, the agency ‘has or will have a discretionary decision to make regarding some aspect of the action in SEQR’.
There is some debate as to the Kingston’s Common Council’s authority in the Charter over the Kingston Water Board as it is currently described, but there is no doubt that the public has come to the table to say that it wants to have a say in how its public water source is sold or how its 100 year old infrastructure that was paid for by the public is used. Could the Kingston Water Department have predicted or anticipated water bottling as it is done today back in 1895 when it organized itself as independent? The purpose of which was to keep politics OUT of the public’s water supply. Now, as it appears, that may be working against us. For any elected or appointed official to deny the Kingston public to have a say through its Common Council in my opinion is wrong.
I’d like to publicly thank those who were present tonight – all of our Alderpersons who sit on the general government/public safety committee, Alderman-at-large James Noble, Alderpersons in attendance that included Matt Dunn and Brad Will and the Kingston Conservation Advisory Council for submitting such a thoughtful letter in response to the public’s attendance to their recent educational forum where they hosted Superintendent Judy Hansen.
On the subject of ‘involved’ agencies. Are there other neighboring communities now listed as ‘interested’ that should also consider passing the same sort of memorializing resolution to the Town of Ulster requesting ‘involved’ agency status?
Absolutely. Do it, and do it soon. You’ve got until November 16th.
Because this project isn’t just about building a facility in the Town of Ulster. It’s about using a neighboring municipality’s water source. A source that happens to be in the Town of Woodstock, that may not only be a sacred place to all living in and around it, but could also be feeding its aquifer. A projected 260 trucks going in and out of a plant all day and night long. Trucks potentially coming and going in addition from Spring sources from places such as Dutchess County (we have heard, though haven’t confirmed yet, that Niagara has isolated a spring in the Red Hook area). Air Quality. Congestion. Traffic Concerns. About water discharges that may or may not be questionable into the Esopus Creek. About climate change and drought. And for what? 40 – 80 jobs? It’s enough to stop any thinking person in their tracks in regard to going any further
In addition, how does a business like Niagara being in a ‘tax free’ zone impact our taxes? The town of Ulster residents will be footing the bill. So might the City of Kingston on the School tax front. What dialogue is being had about that? Hey listen, now that Tech City is in a ‘tax free zone’ trying to partner with SUNY UCCC to take advantage of 1o years of tax abatements – why settle on Niagara? Start-Up NY is a new program as of January. What are we doing going with our first shovel ready inquiry? Come on fellas. If the public is footing the bill, at the very least you could provide us with options to choose from with some forward thinking companies.
When I started this process – it was quite like the great unknown. I knew I wanted to be involved, and I knew that I could rally at least 100 people to attend that first common council meeting on October 7th. Little did I know that in doing so, I would step into a work that would end up requiring a seven day a week, 12-15 hour day commitment in reading, speaking, writing, strategizing, researching and reaching out. Given that the project was far enough along to be submitted to SEQR, a great amount of catch-up was necessary.
On the subject of Kingston and its citizens, I want everyone to know far and wide that many of us understand that the City of Kingston making the decision to sell off its water not only impacts us here. It impacts us all. Along in building a stronger citizen base in Kingston, it has been a most rewarding experience to also work side by side with citizens from Woodstock, Saugerties, Esopus and the Town of Ulster. We want to connect with everyone to not only help to make this situation right, but to eventually enter into another chapter in all of this. Where we work to protect our ground and surface waters State wide by implementing the Public Trust Doctrine and to STOP DRINKING BOTTLED WATER. To improve how our communities function and to think about connecting with our neighbors as we proceed into what is yet another great unknown in new and unpredictable ways.
What is absolute is that we will need one another.
Thank you for lending a hand. Without a doubt, I may be asking for two.
My warmest regards and thank you.
– Rebecca Martin