Editorial: "Just Say No" to more NYC land acquisition

I hope our local political leaders “just say no” to New York City’s latest land-buying initiative in the Catskills.
In April, the City announced that it would make at least $15 million available to acquire properties from willing sellers whose homes are currently located in flood zones in the Catskill and Delaware watersheds. Any existing structures on property purchased in this program would be razed and the land would be utilized as green space or for recreational use from then on.
There’s nothing new about the City buying land in the Catskills to protect its water supply. It’s been going on in recent history since the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was negotiated between the City and the upstate communities in the City’s watershed in 1996. It was the MOA that gave the City the green light to begin gobbling up land. The City’s land buying program has been so successful that the blue DEP signs identifying City land are now everywhere. Everywhere! However, the MOA specifically prohibited the City from buying land in villages and hamlets for many reasons, chief among then was to prevent a dramatic population exodus from the watershed if the City was to start purchasing what is a very limited housing stock.

City is using threats
Now, the City is using the threat of future flooding, and the lure of millions of dollars, to flaunt the MOA and begin buying land and homes in villages and hamlets. The only thing holding back the flood of City money is that the buyouts can proceed only with local municipal support and approval. I hope the don’t get it.
There has been much talk in recent years about the Catskill being at “tipping point.” One of those tipping points is an already serious population drain brought about mostly by the lack of economic opportunity. Our school populations are declining, fire departments are seeing their numbers decline and the business community remains stressed.

Every property is important
We are at the point where every house is important, every family that lives here is important and we can’t afford to lose any more of either. We now suffer what I call “the law of small numbers.” If the City were to buy 10 homes between Fleischmanns and Margaretville and 10 families took the money and relocated, the effect could be devastating.
I applaud Margaretville Mayor Diana Cope and the members of the village board who have taken the lead and “just said no” to the City. In a post on the Coalition of Watershed Town’s website the mayor writes in part: “Local elected officials within each of their respective municipalities passed resolutions making the hamlet areas and hamlet expansion areas off-limits for any sort of land acquisition by the City. These designated hamlet areas were created as economic epicenters that help maintain the economic viability of the municipality.
“The flood mitigation measures proposed by the Flood Buyout Program seem to revolve solely around floodplain reclamation, which completely negates the entire purpose of the hamlet areas, and further displaces residents and business to accommodate the best interests of the City of New York and not the best interest of the municipalities. Furthermore, we find it a bit disingenuous of the City to create such a program to circumvent the rules associated with the MOA and the Water Supply Permit, to gain a controlling interest in land which has been designated as off-limits for land acquisition.
“In conclusion, the Village of Margaretville has no intention of participating in the proposed New York City Flood Buyout Program as prepared April 2014, but the Village is willing to partner with and support retrofitting structures for flood mitigation and protection, flood control projects, and stream bank restorations and stabilization projects using funds allocated by NYCDEP.”
Margaretville has “just said no” to the City. It’s in our best interest if everyone else follows suit. The future of sustainable communities in the Catskills is at stake right here, right now. “Just say no.”
Dick Sanford
Editor & Publisher