Pine Hill battle shaping up over sewer district extension

By Jay Braman Jr.
It was reminiscent of the bad old days in the Town of Shandaken, where Monday night a public hearing on a plan to extend the Pine Hill Sewer District spiraled downward to an old-fashioned free for all with lots of yelling and gavel banging.
The matter at hand was whether the Pine Hill Sewer District should be extended to include another 30 properties in accordance with an agreement reached over a decade ago between the town and the city of New York.
Pine Hill is one of the few communities of the Catskills that took advantage of a sweetheart deal offered by the city back in the 1920s. That deal gave landowners absolutely free sewage treatment forever.
In 1997, the city agreed to increase the size of the district, but some Pine Hill residents believe there is a catch to the offer that would result in the sweet-heart deal going sour. At least a little bit.
But Kevin Young, the attorney representing the town in the matter, said that the rights of the existing district users are preserved and that he felt the written agreement represented that.
“But if it is not clear in here we can make it absolutely clear,” he added.
Al Frisenda, one landowner hoping to benefit from the sewer extension and who was a town board member back in the 1990s when the deal was reached, insisted the extension does not change the deal.
Former Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiModica, a Pine Hill resident, warned that by agreeing to the extension the town was also signing up for the enforcement responsibilities in the entire district, a district that at this point is, and always has been, the full responsibility of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
But Young said that what is actually happening is that by agreeing to install the extension, the city gets the chance to weigh in on sewer law violation matters that would come before the town board. Ultimately, Young said, it was up to the town board to decide each matter.
“You are the judge,” he told the five-member board.
City representative Jim Bogner, who is now working on the design of the extension, noted that similar deals were reached all over the New York City watershed region and that in the other communities it has not been an issue of whether or not to do it but more to make sure it gets done as quickly as possible.
Of the property owners that would be in the Pine Hill extension district, Bogner said “most are very supportive.”
But some of those affected were there Monday night to learn. One homeowner in the extension area discovered that the project could cost her a few hundred dollars because she would need to pay to get her house connected to the system, which Young said would come within five feet of her foundation.
Others who have been plagued with septic system headaches over the years don’t care about hook-up costs because they would be getting rid of those problems.
In the end the town board decided to table the matter. It is expected it will come up again next month.