Vol. 14, No. 9   May 17 - 30, 2001 


If Elected, Hevesi Vows to Build Filter Plant in Westchester


If elected mayor, Alan Hevesi said he would make sure the city builds the filtration plant for the Croton system in Westchester rather than in the Bronx, unless it was possible to avoid filtration altogether.

Hevesi, the city comptroller, made the comments when he and fellow candidate Peter Vallone made a courtesy call on a Riverdale meeting of a nascent political organization called the Northwest Bronx Democratic Alliance. The two were coming from a candidates’ forum at the Riverdale Temple.

After delivering abbreviated versions of their regular stump speeches, Vallone and Hevesi took questions. The only ones they got were about filtration and protection of the watershed.

The state’s highest court ruled in February that the city could not build the plant in the Norwood section of Van Cortlandt Park unless it asks the state legislature for permission. Such approval is considered by most observers on all sides of the issue to be unlikely, so the city is now studying its options.

Margaret Groarke, who was introduced by veteran anti-filtration activist Karen Argenti, asked Hevesi, the city’s chief fiscal officer, if he would push for filtration avoidance so the city didn’t have to spend close to $1 billion to build a facility many residents believe will destroy the area’s quality of life. (Disclosure: Groarke is married to Norwood News editor Jordan Moss.)

“I’m with you. Let’s avoid filtration, absolutely, whatever it takes,” Hevesi said. But as the city’s chief fiscal officer, he warned, “We just live in a real world where the EPA [federal Environmental Protection Agency] has said, ‘If you don’t build a filtration system, you will be fined $70,000 a day.’”

(Argenti informed Hevesi that that same day a federal judge had ruled that fines may not be necessary since the city is proceeding in good faith to resolve the matter.)

But Hevesi closed with a vow that pleased Groarke and Argenti. “If we have to filter, we’ll put it up in Westchester, if I’m the mayor, and pay more money if we have to,” he said. When city officials chose the Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park over the Westchester sites of  Mt. Pleasant and Greenburgh, they argued that it would cost too much to build outside the city because they would have to purchase land and pay taxes on it.

“I think that’s entirely the right decision,” Groarke said of Hevesi’s comments. “The sites in Westchester are not in residential areas or parks.” Two Westchester town supervisors have indicated that they would welcome discussions with the city about hosting the plant.

Groarke’s tone was harsher with Vallone, speaker of the City Council. She told him he had presided over a City Council vote to allow the city to build the plant in Van Cortlandt Park. But Vallone, who said he “went to the Oval Office to try and stop” the project, argued that the Council had no choice and blamed the mayor and the City Planning Commission for pushing the park site. He said the Council had recommended Westchester and the only other choice he said was to “vote it down and be fined $70,000 a day.”

Vallone said the next front in the battle was “to make sure it [construction of the plant] is not done in the first place.”

Groarke, who is president of the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition in Norwood, was not satisfied. “His answer focused on avoiding responsibility for the City Council having decided to put it in the park,” she said.

Vallone was also questioned on a related issue by Riverdale resident Saul Scheinbach, a retired microbiologist who regularly fishes in the watershed. Scheinbach said to Vallone that “the city has bargained away that watershed for political purposes,” allowing developers to build large houses on surrounding lands meant to protect the water system from pollution and runoff.  Scheinbach said he wanted the next mayor to “put teeth” in the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to control development and to fight litter. Vallone said the city was making progress on purchasing watershed lands and that he had pushed the mayor to hire more DEP police.

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