Ulster County Executive calls or rewriting MOA

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By Jay Braman Jr.
Angry that mud issues in the lower Esopus Creek are not a part of the latest refinement of New York City’s Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD), Ulster County Executive Mike Hein wants the historic 1997 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Big Apple and over 50 upstate communities rewritten.

“The finalization of the draft FAD is a critical and historic opportunity for communities in Ulster County and all those impacted by New York City’s water supply to have a real seat at the table in developing the rules governing the filtration avoidance,” Hein said last week in a prepared statement.

“We need to significantly improve the draft FAD and prevent this culture of abuse from not happening again. To do this, I am also calling for a new Memorandum of Agreement that requires us to have a seat at the table, and requires New York City to address the increased costs to businesses, their failure to pay their fair share of taxes, and creates a new culture of collaboration.”
Hein has been battling the City over lower Esopus mud issues for years. That section of stream, which is not within the borders of the Catskill/Delaware Watershed, has suffered severe flooding during all of the recent big storms, plus the waters remain looking like Yoo Hoo for weeks afterwards.

The FAD given the city back in 1997 gave New York a waiver from the Federal Clean Water Act demand that all municipalities filter water supplies. A filter system for New York would cost billions to build and millions per year to operate. Instead, the waiver requires that New York fund a host of programs designed to keep the water running clean without a filter.

At regular intervals the success of all those programs is evaluated. Those that need to be better are made better and those that are no longer needed are dropped. Also, if new issues arise, new programs are developed to mitigate whatever issue has been identified.

According to Hein, a preliminary draft of the most recent waiver included $2 million for stream programs along the lower Esopus, but that funding was then removed from the plan.
Regardless of Hein’s request for a watershed deal rewrite, Ulster County does have a seat at the table, two actually, and has had those seats since the early 1990s when the Coalition of Watershed Towns was formed to sue the city over proposed land use regulations that upstaters said would cripple the region.

The coalition’s action led to a settlement that is the MOA. Since 1997, the coalition has remained intact as a regional advocacy group that represents the entire Watershed Region during the updates of the filtration avoidance waiver.

In a prepared statement, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) explained the process of preparing the revisions to the waiver. “In 2011, DOH initiated discussions with NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection, including the EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, regarding the proposed requirements for the second term of the 2007 FAD,” the release states. “DOH also conducted outreach to Watershed communities, environmental groups, watershed program partners, elected officials, and the general public, to solicit input on the FAD.”
The avoidance determination is not yet etched in stone as the DOH continues to accept public comment of the proposal until October 15.

Unclear is whether the Coalition of Watershed Towns will support Hein’s ideas for a new MOA or the
$2 million for lower Esopus Stream restoration.
The coalition meets at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of each month at Catskill Watershed Corporation headquarters on Main Street in Margaretville.