CWC Board agrees to assist with Phoenicia sewer work

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Board of Directors of the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) unanimously agreed to step into the fray in Phoenicia, where the community has been at odds for several years over whether to build a sewer system.

At the same time, there is disagreement over whether Phoenicia is actually polluting the nearby Esopus Creek, with the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) suspecting it is, but the Phoenicia Water District Commissioner believing it is not.

The CWC Board passed a resolution at its July meeting, which included a lengthy contract that the Shandaken Town Board must agree to sign. At the Shandaken Town Board meeting last week however, no action was taken.

Supervisor Rob Stanley said he only received a copy of the contract the Friday before and has sent it to Shandaken Town Attorney Paul Kellar for his comments.

“I felt it better that we wait until our next meeting to adopt it,” he said.
The 38-page document supplied by the CWC gives CWC a full five years to review all existing plans for a Phoenicia sewer system and build one for the community. After review of the existing plans CWC will prepare what it thinks is the best plan for Phoenicia. That plan will not cost more than the amount made available for the project by the City of New York.

At present there is $16 million left of a $17.2 million grant the city gave Phoenicia.
The contract prepared by CWC also requires that CWC investigate other options such as a septic maintenance district, or a community septic system. CWC must also prepare cost projections for the annual operation and maintenance of the systems.

There appears to be no language in the contract requiring that the final project plan go before Phoenicia voters for approval.

Decade of waiting
Phoenicia has been considering building a system for over a decade. In the late 1990s one engineering firm designed a system, but the Town of Shandaken, which is the governmental body acting on behalf of Phoenicia, never began the project.

Four years ago another engineering firm designed yet another system. That proposal was put before Phoenicia voters in a referendum and was narrowly defeated following what Robert Cross Jr., then the town’s supervisor, felt was a tense misinformation campaign by opponents of the plan.

Recognizing the community divide, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is supplying the funds for the design and construction of the project, agreed to keep the funds available and give Phoenicia more time to plan a system and reconsider.
Last year then Supervisor Peter DiSclafani tried to advance a system using alternative wastewater removal methods involving wetlands and reed beds, but the DEP rejected the plan.
Then last March the DEC informed Shandaken that routine testing of the Esopus Creek shows that the Hamlet of Phoenicia might be polluting the Esopus Creek’s water. The Esopus Creek serves as one of the sources of drinking water for over nine million residents in the New York City area and for Phoenicia itself.

As a result the agency has informed the Town of Shandaken that it will begin further testing to locate the homes and businesses it suspects are to blame.

This week Phoenicia Water Commissioner Ric Ricciardella said that he felt DEC’s report was poorly prepared and inaccurate and that further testing was need before any conclusions were made about Phoenicia and any possible contamination of the Esopus.