Judge rules city must pay to protect water

By Jay Braman Jr.
The City of New York must pay for all upgrades to private sewer systems that protect the quality of the Big Apple’s water supply in the region. That’s the decision by the State of New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, which this month upheld a ruling by Delaware County’s State Supreme Court Justice Michael Coccoma, who last year agreed with the Coalition of Watershed Towns that the city needed to pay for maintenance and upgrades at Worcester Creameries, a dairy processing business in the Town of Roxbury.
In a September 26 decision last year, acting Delaware County State Supreme Court Justice Michael V. Coccoma said that the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must pay for the operation and maintenance costs for upgrades the company made to a waste-water treatment plant installed by Worcester Creameries at its Mountainside Farms dairy operation on Route 30.
“The city cannot pass its financial obligation to provide exceptional quality drinking water onto the Coalition of Watershed Towns…..it is a cost the city, and it alone, must endure,” Coccoma wrote.
Mountainside Farms and the Coalition sued the city in 2006 because the sides could not agree on how long the city would pay the costs. The city only wanted to be responsible for the next 30 years. The city also refused to pay for costly equipment replacement to the system, claiming they were only responsible for the initial design and construction of it.
The city appealed Coccoma’s ruling, but the Appeals Court decision points to the intent of the Memorandum of Agreement, a 1997 deal made between the city and the Coalition of Watershed Towns, was signed to not only protect water quality for the city but to ensure the economic survival of the region that supply’s that water.
“The interpretation urged by the city would significantly stymie the economic component of the agreement,” the decision said.
The appeal decision has rekindled a local sentiment that the city should be responsible for all costs associated with the several new sewer systems built in the area. Such systems, like the one completed last year in Fleischmanns, were built by the city but require substantial contributions from landowners for maintenance costs. The city is also not responsible for repairs to those systems.
Fearing they could not afford such costs, the hamlet of Phoenicia voted against getting a system and continue to battle for a better deal with the city. Organizers say that the appeal decision gives more to weight to their argument.