Shandaken stalls sewer project

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Shandaken Town Board balked Monday at a critical decision on the longstanding Phoenicia sewer issue, putting the fate of the project in jeopardy.

Before the board that evening was a resolution to set a public hearing on the creation of a Phoenicia sewer district.

But after harsh criticism of the proposal from both the audience and town board members, the resolution was tabled until a full town board could be assembled.
Supervisor Rob Stanley was on vacation this week.

Board members were uncomfortable with moving yet another step forward on the proposal because it became clear that the voters within the Phoenicia hamlet are in the awkward position of having to vote on the formation of a district while not knowing what size sewer system will be built or what it would cost.

“It’s ass backwards,” shouted Carol Shalaew. “You’re asking us to vote on something we know nothing about.”

The problem, according to Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) officials, is that there is no way to know how large the sewer will be, or how much of the proposed district will actually get sewer service, until the project goes out to bid. And process requires the district to be formed before bids go out.

One the bids are in, according to CWC Attorney Timothy Cox, the town board can decide whether or not the project should move forward. He made it clear several times Monday night that establishing the sewer district does not lock the town into doing the project.

However, not establishing the district will kill the plan before it even begins. Contract deadlines require a referendum vote on the sewer district before August 6.
Had the board voted against holding the public hearing, which is what the audience wanted, then the controversial sewer project would have been dead as of Monday night.

Instead, Councilman Alfie Higley motioned to table the matter until Stanley returns from vacation. A new meeting has been set for 1 p.m. next Tuesday, May 15. Should the board agree to hold a public hearing no later than June 8, and then contract deadlines for a referendum vote can be met.
If Phoenicia Voters vote to create a sewer district, then the construction plans can be drawn up and put out to bid.

“Depending on how those bids come in, that will determine how large of an area gets sewer,” Cox said.

So, the only way to know is to take this next step.
Lamont Engineering has been studying five different project options for the project and concluded that it would cost between $25 million and $30 million to build a system for the entire Phoenicia district and between $550,000 and $600,000 a year to run it.

But the City of New York, which is footing the bill to build the system, only has about $16 million to do the job. So Lamont has proposed shrinking the size of the system to only serve the hamlet proper, meaning the business district and adjoining side streets and up Route 214 to include the Phoenicia Elementary School.

The proposed sewer district though is twice that size. The hope is that sometime down the road the system can be expanded to cover the entire district.