Sewage Project Sparks Community Controversy

Photo courtesy of Facebook.

Talks of a proposed sewage treatment plant to be built on the property adjacent to New Paltz High School on South Putt Corners Road have caused concern among the New Paltz Board of Education and throughout the community, who feel that New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet and town board members in support of the plant have not been transparent about the possible plan.

The property next to the high school is one of multiple possible placements of a sewage facility that is necessary for the long planned expansion of South Putt Corners Road, Zimet said.

In 1960 the Town of New Paltz designated South Putt Corners Road as an area to create and flourish business, creating jobs and relieving taxes for the community, Zimet said. In 1995 the town board drafted a generic environment impact statement — a study to see if a projected project meets certain standards and does not negatively impact the environment.

If this threshold is met, “you can fast track your project,” Zimet said. However, the lack of an adequate sewer structure for the town halted any progress that would make that area an industrial corridor that was envisioned to bring in businesses, she said.

“In 2016 or 2017, the county is going to be spending a lot of money ripping up the roads, widening shoulders, putting in parking,” Zimet said. “In preparation for this, the town began a study four years ago to determine on how to address the sewage issue, with four possible opportunities.”

The first proposed option was to join the New Paltz village’s system and/or build a new sewer plant in conjunction with the village. Until recently, Zimet said, the New Paltz Village Board and New Paltz Village Mayor Jason West had repeatedly denied holding discussions about this option.

Zimet said the second option would be to work with the possible Park Point sewage plan, if the proposed project could not use the village sewer system. Zimet said that for the moment, with the project in court limbo, this is not a foreseeable option, unless the town should lose or settle the case and the project goes forth.

Two other possible locations are next to the high school on South Putt Corners Road and another on North Putt Corners Road. According to Zimet both these locations are Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) approved and studies were conducted to see how viable these locations were as legitimate options for the sewage plant.

The location next to the high school where the treatment facility would be built would be purchased from town board member Kevin Barry, who owns the property.

Thus far, there has not been an officially designated location for the sewage plant and the town board is still in the infant stages of implementing the building of anything, Zimet said. Any outrage by the school board or community members to the town board’s alleged lack of transparency is in actuality a veiled push for a political agenda, she said.

Steven Greenfield, a New Paltz Board of Education member, said his concerns over the town board’s intentions are valid. Greenfield said the school board was not aware that a sewage treatment plant next to the highschool was being discussed until last November, when New Paltz Town Engineer David Clouser reached out to discuss the proposed structure. Prior to that, the school board was not told any discussion pertaining to a sewage treatment plant was taking place, Greenfield said.

Zimet said Greenfield took the engineer’s information and misrepresented it to the school district, resulting in the drafting of a resolution of opposition to the possibility of a sewage treatment facility next to the school.

“They attacked the town board in a very disturbing way,” Zimet said. “And now what has happened is a basic mob-mentality of people within our community. The idea that this was all a secret and next week we are building a sewage plant next to the high school is far from the truth — it’s preposterous.”

Zimet believes this resolution, along with what she called a “witch hunt” of the town board, is responsible for the frenzy created against the town board and the possible sewage treatment plant being built by the high school.

“It’s a political agenda against the town board,” she said.

In an attack against the board and Barry’s staunch stance against passing the district bond votes, Zimet said the school board is retaliating against the idea of placing the sewage facility next to the high school, as well as Barry’s role in the discussion of such topics that may lead to his monetary benefit.

“Kevin has never been part of the buying of the property, has not voted on anything, but Kevin has every right to be there to talk about the multiple proposals,” she said.

Zimet said Jeff Logan, the New Paltz Town Planning Board liaison, is meeting with developers to discuss their sewer needs to get a grasp on what the town would need during and after its growth.

“Any conversation in terms of actual planning or a location would be a waste of time so far,” Zimet said.

But New Paltz Deputy Village Mayor Rebcca Rotzler said when Clouser gave his presentation on a sewer system at the Jan. 15 board meeting, directly referring to the New Paltz High School and to the odors that would be emitted from a sewage treatment plant placed in such proximity, progress far beyond the beginning stages seemed to have been made, leaving those not on the town board in the dark.

“He was obviously paid by the town to research that property next to the high school as a site for sewage treatment plant,” Rotzler said.

Not only were those outside of the town board left out of the discussion, Greenfield said, but the town board in its entirety was not provided with the “same deliberation materials for the agenda,” referring to New Paltz Town Councilman Dan Torres.

Zimet said the discussion of possible sewage plant locations since has been occurring since 1996.

“It’s not a secret, nothing was ever a secret. Dan never took it upon himself to ask a question and educate himself on what this study was all about,” Zimet said.

Torres said he knew about the studies being conducted pertaining to the creation of a new sewage facility, but did not know of a set list of locations, of which included the high school.

“I think a number of conversations occurred that I wasn’t involved in,” Torres said. “One board member said discussion over this has been occurring through email for over a year.”

A letter from Clouser to the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency outlining the sewage plan specifically at the high school and referring to the start of land negotiations lead Torres to believe the town board has overstepped their boundaries, discussing plans and land acquisition for the location on South Putt Corners Road without making these plans known.

“I’m more interested in talking about policy, not personality,” Torres said. “We’re reading 10 pages of email at meetings rather than talking about the issue.”

Torres said he thinks the conversation should be on determining if a new sewage plant is really needed and taking a closer look at all feasible options.

Zimet said her main goal is to still conjoin with the village sewage system, an option that she said the DEC is the most supportive of. Despite past opposition from the village board, Zimet said village board member Sally Rhodes requested a special meeting to discuss for the first time the town and village working together to aid both their sewer needs.

“The very people who are fighting us for proposing it at the high school should be trying to convince the village,” Zimet said. “If we would work with the village we could get very serious grants to move the sewage plant to higher land and create a state of the art sewage system. More grants means less tax payer money.”