Donnery slams Neuhaus’ plan for KJ pipeline
Republican sees joint municipal use
By Chris McKenna
Published: 2:00 AM – 10/10/13
WOODBURY — Grabbing hold of a new, volatile campaign issue, Orange County executive candidate Roxanne Donnery held a news conference Wednesday to rip her opponent’s proposal that the county take control of Kiryas Joel’s $45 million water project and try turning it into a regional resource.
Standing at an intersection stacked with 24-inch-wide water pipes the village is burying across Woodbury, Donnery accused Republican candidate Steve Neuhaus of trying to “bail out Kiryas Joel” for its construction of a 13.5-mile pipeline to tap New York City’s Catskill Aqueduct in New Windsor.
“It’s a $45 million cost to Orange County taxpayers, and that’s absolutely ludicrous,” said Donnery, who helped lead opposition to the water project as a county legislator representing much of Woodbury.
Donnery was reacting to Neuhaus’ statement in a debate last week that as county executive he’d explore seizing the pipeline through eminent domain and using it to supply water to other municipalities as well. Building a water pipeline through other towns for one municipality’s benefit was “bad planning,” he said then.
His idea, which recalls outgoing County Executive Ed Diana’s one-time push to build regional water systems, raises a meaty issue in the last month of the race and revives a dormant controversy. Except for a fight over a road permit when construction began this year, the pipeline plans had largely faded from county debate after Diana dropped a lawsuit challenging the project in 2010.
Elaborating in an interview this week, Neuhaus explained that he envisioned bonding and using county Water Authority funds to buy the pipeline and then bill future water customers to repay the debt. Other county taxpayers wouldn’t shoulder the expense, he said.
He said he hasn’t discussed the idea with Kiryas Joel’s leaders or identified any municipalities that want the same water and would share the expense. But he touted the aqueduct as a “guaranteed source” for communities that now rely on wells, “which end up failing after a certain amount of time.”
Dismissing Donnery’s opposition to the project as a “political ploy,” Neuhaus argued the pipeline was inevitable and would be better left in the county’s hands than Kiryas Joel’s.
“At least it allows us to have control of the spigot,” he said.
Kiryas Joel’s attorney, Don Nichol, didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Construction began in March and is far from complete.
Burying the pipe beside county and state roads, the village hopes to finish the first phase by spring, extending the pipeline to roughly its midpoint in the Mountainville section of Cornwall.
But then it must extend the pipeline another seven miles to New Windsor, connect wells to it and build pump stations and a treatment plant.
In the meantime, Kiryas Joel faces a lawsuit challenging a new well it hoped to tap in Cornwall to bolster its backup supply, a key requirement before it can take water from the aqueduct. The village suspended its application for a state well permit earlier this year after numerous groups opposed it and the lawsuit was filed.
Woodbury Supervisor John Burke, whose town brought that suit and who attended Donnery’s news conference, said Wednesday that Woodbury doesn’t need more water now but would consider sharing aqueduct water if and when the need arose. Much would depend on the expense, he said.
Yet he also voiced wariness about collaborating with Kiryas Joel and the county on a water supply, recalling long-standing complaints about the county’s control of a sewage treatment plant in Harriman that serves various communities in southern Orange County.
“Can they deal with a water loop any better?” Burke asked. “Not based on their past performance. I don’t have any faith in what has gone on at this point.”
“Water loop” was the term for a 65-mile pipeline Republicans planned in the 1980s to supply water to sections of the county. The $213 million project died in 1992 because municipalities refused to pay for it, but Diana revived the concept a decade later by suggesting the county build “miniloops” instead.
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