The Rockland County Legislature approved two resolutions in regards to United Water’s proposed desalination plant in Haverstraw.
The first resolution supports the request of Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee asking the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to reopen its proceedings from 2006 on Rockland’s water supply. The second resolution requests the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) require an issues conference and adjudicatory hearing on the proposed Haverstraw desalination plant.
“The resolutions are directly at the process,” said Legislator Alden Wolfe, chair of the environmental committee, which discussed the two resolutions at last week’s committee meeting. “It goes without saying that we have no direct control over whether this plant goes in, what the rates will be if the plant goes in. However, we all recognize that there’s a lot at stake here.”
The DEC website says there are three phases in a permit hearing: a legislative hearing, an issues conference and an adjudicatory hearing. The first two phases are held in all permit hearings, according to the same site. There has not been an issues hearing on the plant yet, and Wolfe said he hasn’t heard anything from the DEC about holding one, so he wanted to make sure the county gets one.
A big reason for that is because there was one public meeting held on the plant and it was so crowded that not everyone could get into the meeting, also meaning not everyone who wanted to comment on the plant didn’t get to. While Wolfe said he would’ve liked to see more public meetings on the plant, an issues conference will give the public a chance to have their voice heard as well. The issues conference, according to the DEC site, is used to:
- hear arguments on whether party status should be granted
- narrow or resolve disputed issues of fact
- hear argument about whether disputed issues of fact should be adjudicated at a hearing
- determine whether legal issues exist that are not fact dependent
- decide any pending motions.
The public has also been able to voice their thoughts on the plant at legislature meetings, as each legislative meeting has a public participation portion, in which speakers can sign up to talk about an issue of their choice for two minutes. Each meeting is allowed to have 40 minutes of public participation. At Tuesday’s legislature meeting, the public participation section of the meeting ran the full length with all but one speaker talking about the desalination plant. The lone non-desalination plant comment was about the county bus contracts.
Connie Coker, a former legislator, thanked the legislators for looking out for the public.
“You know your hands really are on the future and we need full disclosure,” she said.
Margie Turrin said the public needs all of their questions answered before a decision is made.
Legislator Frank Sparaco said that in his five years as a legislator, the desalination plant is the issue his constituents have most reached out to him about, mostly to tell him how “vehemently against it” they are.
Most speakers during the public participation were against the plant and explained why they oppose it. Wolfe made sure to remind the packed crowd that the legislators weren’t voting on the plant itself.
“These resolutions aren’t about whether we support the desal plant or not,” he said. “It’s not a referendum on the plant.”
Chairwoman of the Legislature Harriet Cornell voted in favor of the resolution and said she’s not totally opposed to the desalination plant. However, she’d like to “give conservation a chance” for a few years first.
The two resolutions passed 15-1 with Legislator Jay Hood voting against each. He said he doesn’t think they should “delay this process anymore” and to put their faith into the organizations that have signed off on the plant already.
While Hood was the only legislator to vote against both resolutions, Legislator John Murphy abstained from voting on the first legislature resolution and wasn’t present in the room for the second vote and thus didn’t vote. He said he abstained from the first resolution so he could keep separate his work with various non-profits in the community and his work as a legislator He said he doesn’t vote on resolutions involving companies that have done work with those non-profits just to make sure he keeps everything on its own.