VIDEO: Public Comment 10/7/14 at the Kingston Common Council Meeting

 

By Rebecca Martin

Below is my speech from last evening. Any new information that was gathered today is underlined and in italics below.

Part 1 – Starts 49:25 – 58:20
Part 2 – Starts 0:00 – 2:53

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There are many aspects of this project that I could address tonight but because I am here in front of my common council, I will be speaking on specific items that I feel are critical and that are in your jurisdiction to address and correct. These include gathering up-to-date reports and other important documents, organizing a fair and balanced public forum on the potential sale of Kingston’s water, reviewing how the SEQR EAF was submitted by the Town of Ulster Town Board, exploring other monetary options for improving infrastructure and finally, to consider draft text that I will submit for the start of a resolution to protect our communities water source both surface and ground water.

1) The COK’s Water Department Superintendent Judy Hansen with the support of the Water Board issued a ‘will share’ letter to the Niagara Bottling Company project. According to reports, the letter may not commit our water source but suggests that we have the capacity to achieve their request of 1.75 million GPD. Today, in a press release printed in the Daily Freeman, Hansen says that after Niagara contacted the Water Department in April of this year, the Board “engaged an independent engineering firm to conduct an impact analysis on the effects of the potential sale“ and that “preliminary results of that analysis suggest that the Department has the available resources to supply and treat the requested flows.”

My first request to the council is that they receive a copy of both the Engineering impact analysis and the ‘will share’ letter and to make it available to the public as soon as possible.

10/8/14: Alderman Brad Will submitted a request today for these documents. 

2)  So far, the public has had little to no information on the proposed water sale to the Niagara Bottling Company.

My second request – that the council host its own public forum on the proposed water sale with a panel that includes city officials, environmentalists and others to help round out the discussion – and provide plenty of time for public debate.  

The Kingston Advisory Council has organized a meeting on Tuesday, October 14th where Judy Hansen will present and answer questions on the Niagara Bottling Company proposal. 

3)  Based on a 2007 Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (aka FGEIS), our safe or dependable yield was 6.1 million GPD. A safe or dependable yield is an annual amount of water that can be taken from a source or supply over a period of years without depleting that source beyond its ability to be replenished naturally in ‘wet years’. This number is based on a 1957 drought in our area.

Kingston’s Water Department website states that our community consumes 3.5 million GPD of Cooper Lake. Niagara is requesting up to 1.75 million GPD. If that were the case today, we’d be using 5.25 million GPD. A number dangerously close to our safe yield. We haven’t even touched upon the contracts or promises to development that are out there that may very well push us over our limit on a regular basis.

Sometimes you hear the argument that the COK sold 1 million gallons a day to IBM back when they were in our area. But did they use the full amount every day? Were they bottling and selling water across the country and shipping it out of the area? This comparison is apples and oranges.

In the City of Kingston’s charter, section C11-4 “Kingston NY Board of Water Commissioners – Powers” it states that the Water Board, “with the assent of the Common Council, may construct and maintain waterworks for supplying said city and its inhabitants with pure and wholesome water; exercise such powers as are necessary and proper to accomplish such purpose…”. I can’t see how the Council could ever uphold its responsibility here without updated reports on an annual basis.

I’d like to ask that our Common Council request an updated assessment of our safe yield not only based on a 1957 drought as well as a list of current use, contracts and promises made of our water supply for capacity to be known.

10/8/14:  We learned today that the safe yield was last assessed in 1961. Now the drought of 1957 makes a whole lot more sense as to why they used that as their measure.  I’d say we’re LONG overdue to reassess the safe yield – and that’s necessary to have updated before selling our water supply.  

4) A SEQR review is underway for the Niagara Bottling Company where the Town of Ulster Town Board is lead agency. The Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) submitted by Niagara’s consultant ‘The Chazen Companies” limited the action to construction which is what is known as segmentation and illegal under SEQR. Had the proposed action been more broad (and accurate) it would “include construction of the bottling plant and the contracting with the City of Kingston to supply water for that plant“. The list of involved agencies would have been longer and included the City of Kingston, Board of Water commissioners, Town of Woodstock and others, including potentially the NYC DEP.

Now, if the City of Kingston makes the decision to sell its water, an additional SEQR process will be triggered

I’d like to ask the council to please look at the SEQR EAF application and question the absence of Kingston as a participant.

10/8/14: To my dismay, after I spoke to the Water Board today, in the presence of Town of Ulster Superintendent they passed a resolution approving the Town of Ulster as Lead Agency of the SEQR process.  We were told that the Common Council had no say over the sale of water, and that their board (all of five members) were the only ones to make that decision.  Where was our Mayor? Not present, though he too sits on the Water Board. 

5) According to Judy Hansen’s press release this morning, it states that infrastructure improvements to our water supply would cost 16 million dollars. Has the Kingston Water Department created a capital improvement plan for its water infrastructure?

The City of Kingston’s School District, for example, recently did just that. For infrastructure and maintainance improvements, the overall costs would be $137.5 million dollars. After State aid, the cost to the taxpayers was $55,000. To approach this, the district bonded for a span of 20-25 years at 3-4%. The tax increase for a home valued at $200,000 was just $12.00 per month or $144.00 for the year.

To bond today is cheaper than it was back then at 2-3%. Money has never been so cheap to borrow. What would the cost to bond 16 million dollars do to our taxes? Increase them by pennies? Quarters?

I’d like to ask that our council look into other monetary solutions for water infrastructure needs other than the sale of our water supply.

6) Finally, it is very difficult for anyone to capture what is to come in the way of climate change. But what we do know is that a project like this, once they have a foot hold in the community not only take what is contracted – but can also place a great deal of pressure on elected officials to take even more. Niagara Bottling Company might very well be a ‘family run business’ but it is that to the tune of a 300 million dollar profit per year, selling water through the Costco and Walmart chains across America. It is my opinion that corporate concerns is profit and not people. Mayor Shayne Gallo and Superintendent Judy Hansen believe that they can place stipulations in the Niagara agreement that gives the public first priority in the case of drought. So far, given the way this process has been handled – it is reasonable to believe that their notion is naïve. Already, many assumptions have been made such as a decision to send out a ‘will share’ letter or to even consider supporting the sale of the public’s water source without ever going to the public to inquire first. All of what is happening today is unprecedented, and with the upcoming presentations by the Water Board in the weeks ahead is occurring because of public pressure. None of this was offered at the onset. Or how about the way the SEQR EAF was handled and submitted? Some of our former elected officials have cried ‘let the SEQR process play itself out’ when the Water Board and City of Kingston are not listed in the action and there are possibly other agencies and municipalities, too,  not even listed who need to be counted for in able for a fair review.

For these reasons, and more – I am submitting draft text and requesting that our Council as elected officials and residents of Kingston too work on a resolution to pass that protects our surface and ground water for not only us, but the generations to come. The people have the same common interest here and must protect natural resources for the benefit of the public. Not as a commodity to bottle and to sell.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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