Kingston Water Department: Respond to Four Month Old FOIL Request Now.

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On October 15th 2014, the national organization FOOD AND WATER WATCH submitted a FOIL request (New York’s Freedom of Information Law, Public Officers Law 87 et. seq) to Kingston’s Water Department to release “all records and documented communications, including direct written correspondance and emails, between Niagara Bottling Company and/or its representatives and the Board of Water Commissioners.  In their letter, the same request was made of Mayor Shayne Gallo including any correspondence and emails between the Town of Ulster and Mayor of Kingston regarding the Niagara Bottling Company proposal.” There is that and more. Please read the attached.

“When an agency receives a FOIL request…the law states that it has five business days to grant or deny access in whole or in part, or if more time is needed, to acknowledge the receipt of the request in writing and indicate an approximate date by which the agency will respond to the request, usually not more than 20 additional business days”   SEE EXPLANATION OF TIME LIMITS FOR RESPONDING TO A REQUEST.

Almost four months later and we still have not received anything.  Are they hiding something?

You can call Kingston Water Department Superintendent Judy Hansen and request that she release the requested documents immediately:

845/331-0175
jhansen@kingston-ny.gov

Contact Mayor Shayne Gallo, too, to alert him of the lack of response by the Water Department to the initial and ongoing FOIL request:
(845) 334-3902 

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid. Three Suggestions That Could Improve Kingston’s Water Infrastructure.

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By Rebecca Martin

I received an ARTICLE from a Syracuse paper that’s been forwarded around locally this week where Governor Cuomo was reported to say to Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner that the State has “no plans to send millions of dollars to Syracuse or other upstate cities to fix leaky aging water systems” among other things that were not so pleasant.

Given that one of those responsible for sharing the article was Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley – who appears to believe that there isn’t any other possible alternative to our water infrastructure woes other than to privatize them by handing over a portion of the repair work to a company like Niagara Bottling – I had to investigate.

Upon a little research, I have learned that Syracuse Mayor Miner and Governor Cuomo have a longstanding strained relationship. Minor was once appointed to the State’s Democratic Party as a co-chair by Cuomo in May of 2012 only to resign shortly after in April of 2014.   “The relationship between Cuomo and Miner has been strained at times, with the two butting heads on several issues including State aid to cities. Minor also authored an article in the New York Times (on February 13th, 2013) criticizing Cuomo’s proposal to let municipalities borrow money to off-set pension costs.”

Also of note, is that their relationship goes way back as Miner having worked for Cuomo’s father when he was Governor.

Why is this important?

The Daily Freeman did a piece on the article recently.  When asked my reaction to it, my first response was to say that the public should better understand the context in what they were reading.  Cuomo’s reported quotes seemed specific to the Mayor and Syracuse. Was there a conflict between the two elected officials or was this really a statement on policy regarding state funding for water infrastructure in communities like ours?

My initial observation appeared to be correct from what I learned about Governor Cuomo and Mayor Minor. There was more to this then what met the eye.

My choice of action? To place aside what appears to be a bullying attempt by the local proponents of the Niagara Bottling proposal – which is of no use to the public – and instead, continue my efforts to become better educated on the needs and solutions in Kingston and our region.

###

Here are three suggestions worth time and consideration in Kingston.

1. The City of Kingston’s Water Department creates Capitol Improvement Plans (CIP) of only 4-5 years in length.

Those in favor of the Niagara Bottling proposal are hoping that they might be able to save us when Niagara PAYS ONLY SOME of a five year capitol improvement plan that totals an approximate $18 million dollars of Kingston’s water infrastructure costs (a jump of $2 million dollars since September of 2014).

But how about the rest?

Be reminded that the current improvements listed recently include some that are mandated by the DEC.  Niagara’s incremental influx over at least ten years (I am using a 10 year time period based on the number of years they would receive tax abatements if they were to be approved into the StartUp NY program) wouldn’t include improvements to the Cooper Lake Dam which is a part of this figure. A fix that our Water Department has known about since 2009 as I understand it. We are only addressing that now? How come?

What about long term planning? What exactly are we looking at here – and is there a  10, 20, 30 year plan (or whatever is the professional standard to have a long view) that allows us to look at our water infrastructure needs as an entire system?  It seems only logical that we would need a long range plan so that we can not only bite off small pieces along the way, but to also be in line for any future local, state and federal funding that becomes available.

After potentially selling 25% of our water resources to Niagara Bottling, what are we planning to sell to keep water prices low for users yet cover future infrastructure costs?  It appears to me that our elected and appointed officials are placing us in the precarious position to turn to privatization and that’s not acceptable.

2. Conservation pricing. The Kingston Water Department does the opposite and charges users more who use less and less who use more

Kingston’s current water rates are organized using an antiquated model by charging those who use the least the most and those who use the most the least. In this day and age, where water is scarce in many parts of the country, we should be applying something called ‘Conservation Pricing’ here at home. Not only are we encouraging users to not conserve today, we are also most probably missing out on large revenues over time that could be used to fix ailing water infrastructure. 

People like throwing around that we are ‘water rich’ in NYS.  But that doesn’t mean that we will always be, or that the 1% of water (which is the percentage that we can actually drink worldwide) will always be clean for us here.

When you have ample amounts of anything, you should not only be saving it but also mindful in setting a good example for our young community leaders who will one day be running our city to be thinking in these terms.

There is so much good reading out there on Conservation Water Pricing and I encourage you to do a little research to read up on it. We can do a longer piece on that at another time, too, if that would be helpful.

READ: EPA Water Sustainable Infrastructure Pricing Structures
READ: Conservation Pricing for Residential Water Supply (Florida)

3. Make the Water Department a part of City Government.

In 1895 when the Kingston Water Department was created it was made independent to keep politics out of water.

When the Kingston Water Board of Commissioners feels as though they have the exclusive right to sell our water and infrastructure to a company like Niagara Bottling – paid for by users and the public for over 100 years – how does that serve the publics interest today or for the future?

Additionally, our Mayor has the sole discretion to appoint members to the Water Board Commission. If the potential for politics doesn’t exist there,  I don’t know what does. Furthermore, our council has the authority to approve any water infrastructure improvements needed. Once more, the potential for politics.

In the Kingston City Charter, Water Commissioner terms are five years in length and it looks to be at a maximum. We haven’t been able to find any information in the Charter or in Water Department By-Laws (which apparently don’t exist) that allow for an extension of that five years and yet, the chair of the Water Board of Commissioners has served since 1981.  Furthermore, there isn’t a Water board Commissioner that has served for less then one term already.

What KingstonCitizens.org is going to explore this spring are steps to create a referendum in November 2015 that would bring an opportunity for the public to vote on whether or not it wants to keep the Water Department independent.  

If we have nothing really to gain for our Water Department to be independent outside of a decision to keep politics out of water from 135 year ago – long before there was bottled water companies and discussions to privatize water infrastructure – then we suggest it’s time for a change.

Insist on better municipal water management and a comprehensive study of Kingston’s water infrastructure needs. Don’t turn over 100 + years of a public investment over to private interests.  We insist on finding creative solutions to solve decades of deferred maintenance.

 

Further Reading:

Christie Signs Law Greenlighting Fast Track Sale of New Jersey Water Systems

Privatization of Public Water, Sewer Systems Could be Fast Tracked Under N.J. Bill

Niagara Bottling States Town of Ulster Site “Worth Fighting For.” Coalition Empowered by Thousands of Voters Prepared to Fight Back. New Petition is Released.

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SIGN THE PETITION

Kingston, NY. – A coalition of organizations and communities from Ulster County and New York State have prepared A NEW PETITION to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Kenneth Adams, President of Empire State Development Corp and Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of SUNY NY demanding that the controversial Niagara Bottling Company be denied Start-Up NY tax abatements through the program. The group lists seven reasons why such a decision to make the award at this time could ‘confuse the public and inappropriately influence impartial SEQRA evaluation” in the petition released today that is signed by over a dozen organizations and others.

In an article by Country Wisdom News dated February 1st, 2015, a spokesperson for the Chazen Companies, Niagara’s engineering consultant, is quoted stating:  “Niagara seems to feel this is a good site (Town of Ulster) and one worth fighting for. They cam back and asks us to go ahead and prepare scoping documents. After the town approves those, the public comment can begin. It’s still early in a long process.”

“If the Niagara Bottling Company is awarded public funds or tax abatements, our coalition is currently empowered by thousands of voters – and this number will certainly grow – to fight back.” the rapidly growing Coalition states in its petition.

Aidan Ferris, President of the SUNY Ulster Environmental Club agrees that Niagara’s business does not meet Start-Up NY requirements regarding the college mission.  SUNY Ulster students and faculty have voiced opposition recently with a petition requesting that SUNY Ulster “rescind their proposed partnership with Niagara Bottling Company” signed by over 1300 people.

“SUNY Ulster is in the process of revamping the mission statement of our school to include Accountability and Sustainability.  Being responsible to our environment, the community and to each other for the careful use of resources by making data-driven decisions that accomplish the completion of College goals that support the College mission.” Ferris says. “Clearly the Niagara Bottling proposal is in complete contradiction with all the amazing actions our school has taken to lower its impact on the environment. The administration of our school needs to see that in order to be truly sustainable, we need to not only be economically sustainable, but culturally sustainable, and environmentally sustainable too;  it doesn’t appear that the partnership with Niagara would be any of the three”

The proposed Niagara Bottling 414,800 square-foot bottling facility would be a new build adjacent to theTech City campus in the Town of Ulster. It would process up to 1.75 million gallons per day (GPD) of water from the City of Kingston’s water supply at Cooper Lake located in Woodstock, using over 25% of its capacity, with plans to truck in much more than that from springs in surrounding communities. The facility will create bottles on site with small plastic PET pellets and dump 342,500 GPD of wastewater into the Esopus Creek that leads to the Hudson River. The Group’s effort is to build a transparent, participatory process based on the facts about this project, having learned that the proposal is being promoted without adequate analysis of its potential economic and environmental impacts.  A “Positive Declaration” has been determined and a full public scoping process in the State Quality Review (SEQR) process from the Town of Ulster as Lead Agency is now currently underway.

For more information, contact Rebecca Martin at rebecca@kingstoncitizens.org

VIDEO: Town of Ulster Town Board Meeting 1/22/15

12:09 – 13:08    Rebecca Martin, Kingston NY
Has the ToU received the draft scoping document from The Chazen Companies and if not,  will the Town Board extend the projected publication date of the draft scoping document by Town Board resolution as protocol based on the SEQR TIMELINE initiated by the Town of Ulster as Lead Agency?

13:20 –  15:38   David Bruner, Kingston NY
“It Could very well be said that this water belongs to God, in whatever form he appears to you.”  VIEW speech text.

15:44 – 16:24     Jennifer Schwartz Berky, Kingston NY
Have you received any other communications from The Chazen Companies or Niagara outside of the draft scoping document?

16:27 – 17:25    Elizabeth Simonson, Lake Hill, NY
Knowing that you anticipated a copy of the draft scoping document today, has anyone from the Town Board or the Supervisor’s (Deputy) office contacted or had direct communication with Chazen about when they can expect to get a copy of the document?

 

DID YOU KNOW? On Water.

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By Rebecca Martin

Did you know? A few important facts as we understand them.

1. That the City of Kingston allowed the sale of 1 million gallons per day (GPD) to IBM in the late 1950’s until their demise although they hardly ever used the full amount allocated to them?  Based on what we currently know, IBM had to purchase that amount whether they used it or not.

2. That the Town of Ulster currently purchases 700,000 GPD, but really only uses 500,000 GPD? The additional 200,000 GPD is held for their community and if used, would be charged  a higher water rate?

3. That the Town of Ulster’s water is ‘hard’ and that some of the City of Kingston’s water that is purchased is used to mix and improve water quality saving money on water treatment?

4. As the current water rates are structured in Kingston, those who use the most water are charged less and those who use the least pay more?

Feel free to clarify if necessary

…and get to know your water source.

VIDEO: Food & Water Watch “Bottled Water. Bad for people and the environment”

By Rebecca Martin

KingstonCitizens.org hosted a public educational forum with our guest Alex Beauchamp from Food & Water Watch. Thanks to Clark Richters of Kingston News for capturing the bulk of the evening.

0:00 – 3:50
A brief history of bottled water

3:51 – 5:02
How has marketing convinced us that bottled water is safer?

5:02 – 6:57
Bottled water contamination. Who oversees testing?

6:58 – 7:39
What is the regulatory process for water bottling facilities?

7:43 – 9:35
Differences between Bottled Water and Soda and Beer industries

9:39 – 14:25
Water leaving the watershed. What happens to water when it leaves and why doesn’t it return?

14:26 – 17:06
What are the benefits of selling water to the community and the profits to a company?

17:08 – 19:36
Are there examples of how selling municipal water has curtailed economic development?

19:46 – 27:02
Regarding Niagara, have you seen scenarios before such as like what is happening in Kingston in other communities and how have they gone through their process?

27:10 – 27:49
Why might Niagara be interested in coming to our area?

27:52 – 30:03
Is it common that corporations and government are working behind the scenes before the public is made aware of water deals?

30:52
Open the floor to questions. 

Why the City of Kingston Should Be an Involved Agency in SEQR

The Action submitted by the Chazen Companies (for Niagara Bottling Company) yet passed by the Town of Ulster Town Board and Town of Ulster Planning Board is incomplete and doesn't include Water delivery in the Action. This is known as 'Segmentation', illegal in SEQR.
The Action submitted by the Chazen Companies (for Niagara Bottling Company) yet passed by the Town of Ulster Town Board and Town of Ulster Planning Board is incomplete and doesn’t include Water delivery in the Action. This is known as ‘Segmentation’, illegal in SEQR.

By Rebecca Martin

ACTION:  There are only four days left for Kingston to be added as an Involved Agency. Call Mayor Shayne Gallo at 845/334-3902 or email sgallo@kingston-ny.gov to request that a new letter from the Corporation Council be issued to the Town of Ulster requesting the City of Kingston be Involved Agency. Here is why:

Read more…

ACTION: Contact Martin Brand of DEC Regarding SEQR Action and Lead Agency.

By Rebecca Martin

ACTIONContact all listed below to alert them that the ACTION in the current Environment Assessment Form (EAF) for SEQR (drafted by Niagara/The Chazen Companies) is too narrow in scope. It does not include the SALE of water from its supply sources in Woodstock to Niagara and is a critical part of the entire project that needs to be environmentally reviewed by SEQR under ONE Lead Agency (that being the DEC) before any decisions can be made or actions taken by any involved agency, including the City of Kingston Water Department.

Read more…

City of Kingston: Water Supply Permit and Water Supply Applications of 1954 & 1929.

FOIL Request DEC
By Rebecca Martin

Recently, we reached out to the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) to see if we could receive a copy of the most recent Water Supply Permit by the City of Kingston.  They asked that we FOIL (NYS’s Freedom of Information Law) for their records, which we did.

Read more…

SEQR: Interested vs. Involved Agencies

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By Rebecca Martin

Last night the Town of Ulster Town Board expanded both their ‘Involved’ and ‘Interested’ Agency list on a “Revised Resolution on Notice of Intent to Declare Lead Agency” (see pages 38 – 44) for the Niagara Bottling Facility project.

We are disappointed that involved parties don’t also include the Town of Woodstock, City of Kingston and Town of Esopus.

Read more…

Kingston Water Board: Members and Term Limits

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By Rebecca Martin

Are you as curious  as I to know who sits on the Kingston Water Board?

Call me old fashioned, but I have a great deal of respect for those who volunteer for boards, councils and commissions in Kingston.

However, this five member board believe that they alone have the authority to decide whether or not Kingston’s water source can be sold to the Niagara Bottling Company. Five people who view themselves as independent of Kingston City Government.  (?)

Joseph DeCicco, President
Al Radel
Robert Niedzielski
Raymond McSpirit
Dennis Croswell
Shayne Gallo, Mayor

In 1895 by a special act of the NYS legislature to provide potable water to the residents of the City of Kingston, it says that the Water Board is a “financially and administratively independent department within the City of Kingston and is governed by the Board of Water Commissioners. The Board is a continuously sitting body and each member is appointed to a five (5) year term by the Mayor. The Mayor is a voting member of the Board.”

A five year term.  I’d like to see how long each member has served. I have a hunch that some of them have been sitting around that table for longer than five years.

What was relevant in 1895 – over 100 years ago – probably isn’t all relevant today.  Back then, in being independent the idea was to keep politics out of water.  How’s that working for us in 2014?

Have a look at the Town of Ulster Supervisor Jim Quigley addressing the Water Board after everyone left.  VIEW

Furthermore, to assume that back then it was ever anticipated  that bottling and selling surface and groundwater and shipping it far and wide – or climate change would be in their purview is just plain silly.

Reform is a good thing, folks.

This builds a stronger case of the need to update Kingston’s charter.   I like the idea of exploring new forms of government too while we’re at it, such as City Manager Form of Government where a professional with a background in public administration could be hired.  KingstonCitizens.org recently hosted a public educational meeting on the subject and it was enlightening.

Here’s how I feel about THAT.  But we’ll take this all up again at another time.

For today, it’s important for Kingston citizens to look at every aspect of the proposed Niagara water deal and that includes who this Water Board is.  Their backgrounds and for how long they have served should be made priority.

 

 

AUDIO: Kingston Water Board Meeting 10/8/14

By Rebecca Martin

Today at the Water Board meeting, a resolution was passed to approve the Town of Ulster as being ‘lead agency’ on the SEQR review for the Niagara Bottling Plant. We were told that the City of Kingston (i.e. the Common Council) had no authority to dictate whether our water was to be sold or not. That it was strictly up to the Water Commission. An appointed body by the Mayor of five people.

Read more…