Soil & Water director disputes CWC fear of home rule loss

By Geoff Samuels
At the East Branch Flood Commission meeting on March 25, Rick Weidenbach, executive director of the Delaware County Soil & Water District expressed disappointment with how the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) had “misinterpreted” a draft of a Local Flood Hazard Mitigation Analysis document (LFHMA), a text that had been presented to the CWC for review at their March 15 meeting.

“I was really disappointed with the way the CWC had interpreted the document,” he said. “I don’t think it was anything deliberate, but I think they did misunderstand what it was really about.”

Just the facts
“This was a scientific document put together by a partnership between the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as well as local folks,” said Weidenbach. “Everything is steeped in home rule. It was presented to the village boards, the town boards, and from there to the flood commission; these are grass roots efforts,” he explained.

Referring to the front-page article in the March 26 issue of the Catskill Mountain News, Weidenbach went on to say, “…it’s disappointing to hear, because I think the general person on the street would read that article and say, ‘the DEP is taking away our home rule,’ and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

A little history
Weidenbach explained to the commission that after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, Delaware County put together a resolution (#147) with the hope of impressing upon the regulators and the DEP that flooding is, among other things, a water quality issue. “We made the point that most likely during flooding events, there are probably more pollutants entering the reservoir than all the rest of the time combined,” he said.

Weidenbach went on to describe how each county in the Watershed had put forth their own resolution concerning the issue of flooding, and that the Environmental Protection agency (EPA) took those resolutions very seriously because of the fact that some of the reservoirs had to be taken off line when their drinking water became unsafe. It was clear, he said, that flooding needed to be a program of both the City of New York and the Watershed communities.

Weidenbach then related how Judith Enke, from the EPA, had put together a flood hazard mitigation group, made up of the Coalition of Watershed Towns, the CWC, the Soil & Water Conservation District, and the individual municipalities. “(Their purpose) was to look at this whole issue of flooding,” he said, “to see if there was a program that could be developed to address it.”
According to Weidenbach, the group met for about a year, and decided that a flood program was indeed necessary, and that resources from the City of New York would need to be put forth.

As an example of the partnership between New York City and local communities, Weidenbach related to the commission how the city had provided the resources for a Local Flood Hazard Mitigation Analysis in the Village of Prattsville, so that they could better understand what the flooding issues were, and what they needed to face in order to resolve those issues.

The group, chaired by Bill Harding, executive director of the Watershed Partnership Protection Council, was designed to be a liaison between the local concerns of the communities and the state and federal agencies, with the expectation of developing a viable watershed program. Harding’s group liked the idea of what had been done in Prattsville, so they appointed a subcommittee of people who had expertise in stream corridor management.

Not “DEP rules”
“So it was local folks and local agencies, as well as the DEP, and we were formed to be a subcommittee of that larger group,” said Weidenbach. “That subcommittee put together this LFHMA. It’s not DEP rules, as it was stated in the paper. The fact of the matter is, this larger group put together a scientific document so that town and village boards, when they need a consultant to go out and study their flooding issues can say; here’s a document, here’s the technical standards that you need, here’s the procedures that you need to follow.”

Weidenbach finished his commentary adding, “This group right here is the poster child for home rule, and it’s too bad that the CWC misunderstood that document as being something other than what it was, other than just a scoping document for a consulting firm to follow when they’re trying to understand the flooding issues. So I hope the press, whoever’s here today, can correct that because it really does need to be corrected.”

CWC stands pat
In a subsequent interview with the News, CWC Executive Director Alan Rosa said that any “scope of services document” such as the one in question must be reviewed by the board of directors as part of the fulfillment of their obligations to the community, and that a simple clarification of some of the language pertaining to individual municipalities was what they were after.
According to Rosa, even though no members of the CWC Board were present at the particular meeting of DEP and Delaware County Soil & Water representatives that generated the document, he didn’t see a problem going forward, as he thought the city was likely to be “workable” with the kind of language changes that the board was after.
The bottom line is, as Rosa put it, “the town board must be in the drivers’ seat,” and the language in the document must accurately represent that.
Georgianna Lepke, president of the CWC Board, expressed her opinion about some of the wording in the document when she said at the March 15 meeting, “…I go way back to the MOA, there’s still a difference of opinion in regards to what that says…I think we’re really all on the same page, but it’s just to make sure that the clarity is there, and that no matter who’s in office as time goes on…there’s less room for interpretation, and it’s clear from the beginning.”