City Scouts Sites for Plant in
By JORDAN MOSS
Blocked by the state's highest court from building the Croton water filtration plant in Norwood, the city took its familiar power-point presentation to two communities in Westchester earlier this month in search of a new site.
What was not familiar to veterans of this decade-old battle, though, was the relative equanimity with which at least one town - Mount Pleasant - received the plan. No community residents appeared to be in attendance at the June 12 public hearing in the town hall, a marked contrast from the community protests generated by city proposals to build the plant originally at the Jerome Park Reservoir, and, when that plan was defeated, at the Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park.
The difference in reaction could be that the Mount Pleasant site is on a former industrial plot operated by Union Carbide that is one mile away from the nearest residence.
The town supervisor, Robert Meehan, has expressed interest in the possibility of hosting the plant as has his counterpart in Greenburgh, Paul Feiner, primarily because of the tax revenue the facility would generate. (The Greenburgh site is across a highway from the Mount Pleasant site on the same property once occupied by Union Carbide). But this was the first time the city directly engaged the towns in dialogue over the possibility.
Local activists opposed to the siting of the filtration plant in the Bronx were pleased to hear the city is starting to shop outside the city for a site. But officials of the city's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) warned that, even if the plant was constructed in Westchester, that a clearwell, the part of the project that stores the filtered water, must be built in the Jerome Park Reservoir.
"We've said that for years," said Charles Sturcken, chief of staff at the DEP. "That's where the water is. You have to store this water."
But many filtration opponents say the clearwell is not required by federal law and point to the fact that the Jerome Park Reservoir is currently empty as a reason for why it might not be necessary.
"If they decide to build the clearwell [in the Jerome Park Reservoir], we will be in court," said Karen Argenti of the Friends of Jerome Park Reservoir. "Just like they lost in the park, they're going to lose again."
Even though the clearwell is only one component of the project, Argenti believes it's the most problematic. "Construction of the clearwell is the worst part of the project," she said.
Ed Yaker, president of Amalgamated Houses, a large cooperative housing development that played a central role in beating back the city's earlier plan to build the entire plant at the reservoir, said he is still opposed to any construction at Jerome Park Reservoir. "Our position has always been: no construction at Jerome Park Reservoir," he said.
Argenti said she believes the DEP's position is designed to split opponents to the plant and create support for going through with the project at Van Cortlandt Park. "They want to split the people of Jerome Park Reservoir from the people of Van Cortlandt Park," she said. "We are remaining united and we are together in stating that we do not want this project or any part of it to be built here in the Bronx."
The Westchester site is not totally free of controversy. Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat, issued a press release at the hearing that blasted the city for trying to ram the plant through with little review. But he did not rule out supporting the facility.
"The current state of knowledge about New York City's proposed treatment plant in Mount Pleasant is inadequate and should be rejected out of hand," the statement read. "Assemblyman Richard Brodsky plans to subject this proposal by New York City to thorough scrutiny before allowing New York City to disrupt our community."
Though community residents were not in attendance, the Mount Pleasant hearing did draw about eight members of environmental organizations, all of whom objected to the construction of a filtration plant anywhere, primarily because they believe filtration is not necessary and that a plant will encourage development in the watershed.
George Klein of the Sierra Club's Westchester chapter told the board, "I beg you to think regionally and not just on the pros and cons of Mount Pleasant."
But Meehan said the hearing had little to do with whether or not a plant should be built. As long as the federal government is requiring the city to build the plant, he said, Mount Pleasant would proceed in studying the issue.
The city, which has been discussing a new timetable for constructing the plant with a federal magistrate, told the Mount Pleasant town board that they needed to act quickly if they were interested in hosting the plant. The city would like to have a memorandum of agreement in hand within two to three months, a preliminary design by 2003 and the final site plan approved by March 2004.
Sturcken said, that of the two Westchester towns, "Mount Pleasant looks a little more promising at this point." He also said the DEP was "looking around the Bronx for alternative sites."
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