Coalition of Watershed Towns mulls more NYC land purchases

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Coalition of Watershed Towns, a regional advocacy group that is charged with protecting the rights of those who live in the region that provides the drinking water for nine million New Yorkers, is taking a close look at the City of New York’s plan to acquire more land in the area.
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has submitted its application for a permit to continue to buy land to protect the watershed. The permit, to be issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), will allow DEP to acquire additional properties in the Catskill Region to ensure that the undeveloped, environmentally-sensitive watershed remain protected. The current permit is scheduled to exire in 2012.
“Since the beginning of the Filtration Avoidance Determination, New York City has committed $541 million to purchase land to protect our unfiltered drinking water supply,” said DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway in a prepared statement on January 25. “We are acutely aware of the need to balance water quality preservation with the interests and economic vitality of watershed communities.”
DEP has been buying land since 1997 under a deal reached that same year with the Coalition of Watershed Towns, environmental groups, New York State and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to keep the water clean and at the same time protect the rights of those in the watershed, where the Coalition feared City efforts would cripple the area’s economy.
The agreement also gave the city a waiver from Federal requirements to build a multi billion-dollar water filtration system.
In 2007 the EPA granted the city another 10 years on that waiver, despite complaints that from the Coalition that the waiver should be reviewed again in only five years. In the waiver, EPA also required the city to beef up its land buying in the Watershed, requiring the city to allocate another $300 million for more purchases.
The Coalition sued the EPA, claiming it gave the city the power to lock up so much land the local economy will suffer, precisely what the 1997 watershed deal is supposed to prevent. That lawsuit was unsuccessful.
But now the Coalition has the opportunity to present the argument against the land acquisition program again. The state DEC will consider the city’s application and hold public hearings.
At its January meeting, The Coalition’s executive committee met in executive session, basically a private, closed door meeting, with their attorney to discuss the upcoming permitting process. Details of the session were not made public as they pertained to possible litigation.