Official: DRBC flood regs "bad" for county
By Matthew J. Perry
Hard on the heels of an environmental impact study that outlined the withering effects of land acquisition in the Catskill Watershed, the county board of supervisors received another warning call last Wednesday concerning water regulation and its effects on the local economy and infrastructure.
County planning director Nicole Franzese, who was recently appointed to a seat on a subcommittee of the Delaware River Basin Committee (DRBC), delivered a harsh critique of her experience on Floodplain Regulations Evaluation Subcommittee, a 20-person panel that presented a report to the DRBC Flood Advisory Committee on May 19 that recommends stricter floodplain regulation throughout the entire basin, which extends through four states.
Franzese, along with a representative from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), was one of two committee representatives from New York, and the only one able to attend the committee’s meetings. She described a frustrating experience in which most of her recommendations were ignored by the committee, and she went on to soundly reject its findings as not just misinformed but potentially harmful to the region.
Her argument boiled down to the conviction that the Delaware River Basin is too large and diverse a region to be covered by a single set of recommendations.
“We reject the idea of stricter regulations,” Franzese told the board. She stated that her committee’s recommendations had been pegged to floodplain regulations in more urbanized areas in New Jersey, and further argued that the tighter controls in those regions have not proved to yield better results.
Other county officials, such as Dean Frazier of Watershed Affairs and Wayne Reynolds, chair of DPW, were quick to back up Franzese’s grave assessment and describe real-time affects on local citizens. Should the stricter regulations be adopted, it was argued, there would be a sharp up tick in flood insurance requirements, more permits and studies attached to developments near floodplains, and logistical nightmares for public works departments.
“It’s a very scary thing,” Reynolds said. He stated that the state’s Department of Transportation was not informed of the proposed changes and had no seat at the table.
The committee’s recommendations state that, “The floodway in the Delaware River Basin should be defined by a 0.2-foot rise standard for the main stem Delaware River and all other streams and rivers within the basin.” At present, both New York and Pennsylvania employ a 1-foot rise; the committee report states that these floodways “are extremely narrow and new construction is sometimes permitted in close proximity to streams and rivers.”
Board chairman Jim Eisel, who sits on another committee in the DRBC, described this approach as a one-size-fits-all, “cookie cutter approach” that does not take into consideration the particulars of regional topography. But he stated that there was still time for regional interests to fight back. The DRBC Flood Advisory Committee will review the recommendations in late August, and then present its own findings to the five DRBC commissioners on September 22. The DRBC states a public notice will be given before any recommendations are implemented.
“Nicole got beat up,” Eisel said, describing Franzese’s experience. “But she’s tough and she stood her ground.”
Once Franzese had delivered her assessment, the floor opened to the supervisors who took turns describing the floodplain definitions as the latest means to squeeze life out of Delaware County.
“They keep increasing the regulations and restricting us,” said Colchester’s Bob Homovich, who defined ‘we’ as a united force of the DRBC, New York City and ‘the enviros.’ “Redefining the floodway is key to our survival. This would shut down our growth.”
“We’re the smallest piece of the pie,” said Sam Rowe of Hancock.
Dean Frazier of Watershed Affairs pointed out that the basin extends from Hancock to the northern points of Roxbury and Stamford. “These things will affect you,” he said.