DEP issues Phoenicia sewer ultimatum

By Jay Braman Jr.
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has informed the Hamlet of Phoenicia that enough is enough after taking 13 years and $1.6 million to consider whether or not to build a municipal wastewater system.

Now that the DEP, which has been holding $17.2 million to fund the voluntary project and already paid out that $1.6 million, says make a decision or lose the opportunity.

In a letter to the Shandaken Town Board, which represents Phoenicia in the matter, Jeffrey Graff, the City’s Chief of Watershed Lands and Community Planning notes that the Catskill Watershed Corporation, which has had success installing a similar system in nearby Boiceville, has agreed to manage the project and awaits a commitment from Shandaken to proceed.

“The purpose of this letter is to spell out specific milestones and timeframes that will be required of the Town Board of Shandaken for advancing the Phoenicia project from this point forward….” Graff wrote.

According to Graff the required timeframes are as follows:
No later than October 12, the town must execute an exclusive contract with CWC to advise the town and manage the project consistent with the agreement approved by the CWC Board of Directors last month.

No later than 12 months after execution of Shandaken/CWC agreement, CWC will complete its review of wastewater treatment options for Phoenicia and present its recommendation to the town.

No later than 60 days after DEP approval of the CWC recommendation the town must pass a resolution to move the project forward. If the town passes a resolution, the pre-construction phase referenced in the CWC agreement commences.

No later than six months after town resolution to proceed with the preconstruction phase, the town must establish the requisite sewer district.

No later than 12 months after town resolution to proceed with the preconstruction phase, the design shall be complete and town must put the project out to bid.

No later than 18 months after town resolution to proceed with preconstruction phase, town awards bids.

No later than two years after the town awards bids, construction must be complete.

Graff also described the long list of time extensions that his department has granted Phoenicia since 1997, but noted that such extensions are now over.

“The New Infrastructure Program is not an ongoing, open-ended commitment by the City to fund a wastewater project for Phoenicia,” he wrote. “Absent the town meeting the timeframes listed above, the City will initiate termination or default proceedings…..and the remaining block grant funds will no longer be available to the Town for a wastewater treatment project for Phoenicia…..The Department continues to believe that a wastewater project for Phoenicia is in the best interests of residents, businesses. and the environment. We hope that the community will avail itself of this last opportunity for a wastewater project…..”

At the August meeting of the Shandaken Town Board, Supervisor Robert Stanley said that town Attorney Paul Keller has reviewed the contract submitted by the Watershed Corporation but has problems with some of its language.

Stanley expects those issues to be ironed out within a week and the contract will be considered at the September Town board meeting.

“We want to make sure that the Town of Shandaken maintains its home rule authority,” Stanley said.