Municipal leaders leery of new buyout
By Jay Braman Jr.
The Mayor of the Village of Margaretville is still leery of claims that her community has the power to prevent the City of New York from buying land within village borders, and while she and other municipal leaders have been assured that they can choose to not participate in the city’s new, $15 million flood buyout program, she wonders how difficult it will be to just say no.
“What they’re saying is that you have a right, but we have a larger right,” said Mayor Diana Cope on Monday, as she was preparing to go to a Coalition of Watershed Towns meeting that same evening to ask for help in keeping the city’s hands off of any village property, flooded or not.
That’s her interpretation of the modifications being proposed to the city’s Water Supply Permit, modifications that the Margaretville Village Board has asked the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to deny.
“We, as a local municipality, are very distressed that NYS DEC would consider permitting this to happen,” said Cope in a letter to DEC’s Regional Permit Administrator, William J. Clark. “To give New York City parity with the federal and state government in regard to buyouts would undermine our ability to govern and protect our villages, hamlets and towns. Allowing another municipality (of which we do not have reciprocal abilities to influence or have a voice to come in to our municipality and override previously passed resolutions would render us ineffective and possibly destroy our lives as we know them to be…We adamantly request that NYC DEP is not granted this permit modification.”
Later, at the meeting of the Coalition of Watershed Towns held in Margaretville, it was agreed that there should be language in the water supply permit that makes it clear that participation is voluntary, but at the same time many of the group’s executive committee were not sure why there seems to be fear of the program.
“We wanted this,” said Coalition Attorney Jeff Baker of the buyout program. “I don’t really understand what the opposition is. I honestly can’t see any disadvantage at all.”
Coalition Chairman Carl Struendel noted that the original idea for the flood buy-out program actually came from Delaware County officials after Hurricane Irene swept away much of the landscape in 2011.
In order for the program to be implemented, there needs to be changes in the city’s water supply permit to allow the city to buy property in hamlet and village areas previously off limits to city purchase. Those changes, Baker said, were necessary to allow the city to do what watershed communities wanted in the first place: have the city spend money to help residents and businesses ravaged by flooding.
The executive committee has asked Baker to draft recommended language that makes it clear, and iron clad, that municipalities do not have to participate.
Seeks “opt in”
To make it easy, Baker is considering making it so that municipalities are not participating until they officially “opt in” to the program.
Baker added that he has already spoken to DEC officials about the matter and he believes the agency is receptive to the proposal. He will submit his version to DEC by the end of the month.
Furthermore, it appears there is no deadline for opting in, so a municipality can do so at any time.
There are still program details that need to be worked out though. Walton Town Supervisor Bruce Dolph, who is on the Coalition’s Executive Committee, said that a flood buyout program only solves half of the problem. The other half, he said, is the relocation of those residents and businesses.
Dolph wants the city to help in the relocation process and make sure that homes and businesses are relocated within the borders of the same municipality they are being taken out of.
“Either both parts go together or we say no,” Dolph said, speaking for his town. “If you allow one half, you are depopulating,” he went on to say.