Coalition challenges CWC over Phoenicia sewer ruling

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Coalition of Watershed Towns has officially notified the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) that the CWC’s policy to not allow Phoenicia residents to participate in its popular septic maintenance program does not reflect the intent of the 1997 Memorandum of Agreement between New York City and the communities in its vast watershed.

Longstanding issues
This marks the latest frackus in what has been a long and embarrassing process for Phoenicia, which was offered $17.2 million to build a new sewer system for the hamlet. But pressure from the business community prompted the Shandaken Town Board to scuttle the project.

Although the project is near dead, septic problems still remain.
Unfortunately, for the hundreds of property owners in Phoenicia, the CWC has claimed that they do not qualify for funds under the septic maintenance program, a program that serves all other communities throughout the vast Watershed Region.

Nowadays a new septic system runs about $20,000 and can easily cost twice that, depending on site conditions. The septic maintenance program pays those costs up front. While dozens are completed every year, there are literally thousands to do.

CWC orders
The CWC has told Phoenicians that they must go to the end of the line, or just pay for the systems themselves. CWC has also said that those that pay for the systems can apply for a reimbursement from CWC, but there are no guarantees.

But Shandaken Supervisor Rob Stanley, who is a member of the Coalition of Watershed Town’s Board of Directors, took the case to that body, which reviewed the MOA and concluded that the CWC is mistaken.

“The Catskill Watershed Corporation’s Program Rules for the Septic Program require otherwise eligible systems in communities that decide not to participate in the (sewer program) to wait until all other systems in the watershed are replaced before they become eligible, but that rule is inconsistent (with another part of the MOA) which says that prioritization for the septic program should consider anticipated construction of community wastewater facilities,” said Stanley. “Once a community decides to leave (the sewer program) there is no longer an anticipation of construction of a community system.”

Stanley notes, however, that there has not yet been an official decision for Phoenicia to no longer participate in the sewer program.

The Coalition is, at this point, requesting that the CWC change its policy.
CWC spokesperson Diane Galusha said the matter was expected to be discussed in an executive session Tuesday, but the discussion would not be open to the public because it might become a lawsuit.