June 20, 2012
Copyright © 2012
Mid-Hudson News Network, a division of Statewide News Network, Inc.
Ulster officials slam DEC's draft consent order at New Paltz hearing
NEW PALTZ - Ulster County Executive Michael Hein laid groundwork for a long evening of public outcry against a draft consent order. His remarks were delivered at Tuesday night's hearing held by the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Residents and local officials are upset over a three-way dispute between Ulster County, DEC, and New York City's Department of Environmental Protection. DEP manages the Ashokan watershed, supplying clean drinking water to 9 million metropolitan New Yorkers.
For the past 18 months, Ulster County has been fighting against muddy discharge practices instituted by DEP, which have resulted in polluting the Lower Esopus Creek.
The resulting lawsuit attracted international attention and visiting experts, curious over Hein's approach for taking on the bureaucrats at world's largest unfiltered water system.
Central to the battle looms New York City’s filtration avoidance determination (FAD), which exempts DEP from the federal requirement for a multi-billion dollar water treatment plant. The current FAD is halfway through its 10-year renewal cycle.
“In this David & Goliath process, you're supposed to help when Goliath corrupts the process,” Hein told presiding DEC administrative law judge Molly McBride. DEC is the regulatory agency, which determined that DEP violated certain regulations.
Ulster County was not invited to the negotiating table for participation in creating the draft consent order, Hein noted, despite repeated requests by his office.
Hein characterized the $1.5 million fine imposed against DEP as a mere slap on the wrist, claiming the damages to Ulster's $183,000 people and property properly amount to tens of millions. “These fines do not act as a deterrent, and will not change DEP's actions,” Hein complained.
“You have given DEP a license to pollute, and a license to abuse,” Hein said, blasting the draft consent order.” A handful of other elected officials concurred, including county legislative chairperson Terry Bernardo, followed by several dozen residents.
“The issues are complex, and there are no easy answers,” countered Paul Rush, deputy commissioner at DEP's bureau of water supply. He promised that his agency will work together with stakeholders to find solutions.
“DEC is here to listen,” explained Marc Gerstman, deputy executive director at DEC. “We want to hear what you have to say about this.” He indicated that the draft consent order is online for review at www.dec.ny.gov/lands/79771.html and public comments will be accepted for the next 45 days at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Gerstman also urged the public to read and comment upon the Interim Protocol, a regulatory portion of the consent order being imposed upon the DEP during the ongoing enforcement process. The address for this document is www.dec.ny.gove/lands/79980.html .
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