Coalition takes up Phoenicia's sewer case

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Coalition of Watershed Towns has agreed to a fact-finding mission geared toward getting to the bottom of what the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) can or cannot do for the homeowners in Phoenicia, where a multi-million dollar sewer plan was recently rejected by the Shandaken Town Board.

Phoenicia’s struggle with “to-sewer-or-not-to-sewer” has been well documented over the past 15 years, ever since the City of New York offered to pay for building a sewer system and pay for the brunt of the operating costs, just like they have done for several other communities in the region since the famed Watershed Agreement of 1997.

Fleischmanns took the deal. So did Andes. Prattsville too, and Hunter and Windham and Roxbury. More are in line and waiting for the benefit of getting a sewer system installed, and planning is in the works to accomplish that as soon as possible, all with funding from the City of New York.
But, for several reasons, both good and bad, Phoenicia just could not make the deal. The business community feared high annual bills for running the system and making repairs and upgrades. There was also concern that a sewer system would allow for so much new development in the tiny hamlet that established businesses would end up losing their slice of the economic pie as more and more similar businesses popped up due to the new infrastructure.

And there is the worry that the cost of making repairs, like the ones made last year in Andes to a similar system that failed, would add crippling new taxes to the hamlet’s landowners.
Ultimately, the offer proved too unpopular in Phoenicia, and the Shandaken Town Board, which is the decision making body in this, chose to let it die in June by not meeting deadlines for actions necessary to move the project forward.

But what no one really understood was that Phoenicia would end up getting the short end of the stick.

Aside from the sewer program, New York City has funneled millions of dollars into another program that replaces the old and failing septic systems throughout the watershed, thus saving homeowners between $10,000 and $40,000 each by installing these systems under the program.

It was assumed that those in Phoenicia would just roll over into that program, but in July officials with the CWC announced that Phoenicia was not eligible, thus putting all of the property owners on the hook for tremendous septic-repair costs.

According to Shandaken Town Supervisor Rob Stanley, Phoenicia goes to the end of the line, meaning that after the CWC fixes the thousands and thousands of systems throughout the five- county watershed region, then those in Phoenicia can be considered.
But what happens if a system in Phoenicia fails right now?

According to Stanley, that remains to be seen. While the message from the CWC is that the property owner would need to pay, Stanley notes that CWC has already taken care of some Phoenicia systems while all waited for the outcome of the sewer debates. Stanley claims that shows a precedent, and he doesn’t understand why CWC would no longer act accordingly.
Stanley, who is a on the Board of Directors of the Coalition of Watershed Towns, brought his case to that body last week.

Stanley said that the decision to not help Phoenicia is CWC’s and not the City of New York’s, and he wants to know why.

At a recent town board meeting, Stanley reported that the coalition’s board of directors decided to investigate the matter. “We’re not asking for anything special,” he added.