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, that being the public’s water to a national bottling company, that is our most dire concern. Sure, we many of us don’t care for 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 which is good. The others that include 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’. I suppose the good news is that before 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, however, ‘interested’ agency is 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.
Why is this important? 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 Common Council’s authority in the Charter over the 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 it’s public water source is sold or how it’s 100 year old infrastructure that was paid for by the public is used. Could the Commission have predicted or anticipated water bottling as it is done today back in 1895 in Kingston 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 is 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’ parties that should also consider passing the same sort of memorializing resolution to the Town of Ulster requesting ‘involved’ agency status?
Absolutely. Do it.
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 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 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? Enough to stop anyone thinking in their tracks without going any further.
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 has required a seven day a week, 12-15 hours a day commitment reading, speaking, writing strategizing, researching and just plain reaching out.
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 and improve how our communities function from every standpoint.
Thank you for lending a hand. I must expect that as we roll along, I will be asking for two. It won’t be long now until we enter into the next phase where both hands will be necessary.
My warmest regards and thank you.
– Rebecca Martin