CWT not responding to Phoenicia sewer mess

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Coalition of Watershed Towns (CWT), a regional advocacy group established to settle disputes between New York City and the local communities that supply the city’s water, has not yet jumped into the 15-year-long fray over a sewage treatment plan for the Hamlet of Phoenicia.

The city’s involvement appeared to end last month when it representatives left the negotiating table, taking with them over $15 million in grant funds that could have been used by Phoenicia to build a septic treatment system.

At a meeting in Margaretville on Monday, CWT Chairman Dennis Lucas said that he and the CWT Board of Directors would consider going to bat for Phoenicia, but not yet. “We haven’t been asked to be involved,” he said. “We don’t go where we are not invited.”

Right now, the CWT is in the thick of negotiations with the city on a host of issues as the city attempts to secure another Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD) from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Since 1997, the EPA has allowed New York City to operate its water supply system without building a massive multi-billion dollar filtration system. Every few years the EPA reviews the matter, checking to see if the water remains pure and if the upstate communities that are the stewards of the water feel adequately compensated for that responsibility.
During these reviews the CWT, which the EPA says needs to be satisfied, identifies problems that need attention and essentially make deals with the city over how much the city will pay to correct those issues.

At present it remains unclear whether the CWT will ask the city to pony up more money for the Phoenicia project or at least demand that the city come back to the negotiating table, but these matters would be discussed by the CWT Board if the local officials representing Phoenicia came to them and asked for help.

Phoenicia’s representatives are the Shandaken Town Board. Shandaken Supervisor Rob Stanley said this month that was dismayed by what he called “hard line tactics” by city officials in the matter.
Stanley is also a member of the CWT Board of Directors. However, he was absent from Monday’s meeting.