SOMERS, N.Y. - Whether a controversial $62.2 million sewer project slated for Lake Shenorock and Lake Lincolndale goes down the drain or not will be entirely up to voters this fall.
After hearing from both foes and backers of the plan at a lengthy and at times contentious public hearing last week, the Somers Town Board scheduled a mandatory referendum for Tuesday, Nov. 10, at Town Hall.
Besides voting in person via a machine provided by the county Board of Elections, property owners in the two communities can cast ballots by mail as well.
Town attorney Roland A. Baroni Jr., citing state laws on the formation of special districts, had told residents last October that absentee balloting wouldn’t be an option, but due to sweeping election reforms recently adopted by Albany, that’s no longer the case.
Town Clerk Patricia Kalba said Thursday that absentee and affidavit ballots will be validated and counted publically.
Supervisor Rick Morrissey said Thursday, Sept. 10, that he was “pleased” that voters can cast absentee ballots.
“I stated this early on that I thought it was important for everyone to be represented in this vote,” he said. “To everyone opposed and to everyone for this, everyone is going to get the chance to exercise their right to vote on this project.”
PUBLIC OPINIONS HEARD
As they have at past meetings, opponents questioned the town’s motives, claiming that its true intent is to raise revenues and pave the way for future development.
Some critics continue to allege that the town has ignored less expensive and less invasive solutions to ensuring the health of the lakes as well as the environment.
Consulting engineers Steven Robbins and Joe Barbagallo said the town reviewed many options and decided that sewering is the most cost-effective way to meet both demands.
They reiterated the stance that Integrated Advance Systems, as some have suggested, are only allowed in Westchester if a septic has failed or the property can’t accommodate a normal-sized system.
Shenorock resident Jay Batchelor disputed that claim Thursday, claiming there’s an IAS in Bedford on “a new construction.” He offered to take board members to the site.
Batchelor also read into the record county health regulations that, he said, don’t restrict the use of IAS to failed systems.
“They’re the way of the future. They’re self-contained,” Batchelor said later.
Project proponents contend that the public’s health and the environment are at stake. They point to algae blooms as evidence that wayward nutrients are accelerating the lakes’ demise.
Casting doubt on claims that the pollution is primarily caused by road salt or lawn fertilizers rather than failing septic systems, they also cite recent studies that have found pharmaceuticals in a lake tributary.
Said Lake Shenorock resident Robyn Anderson: “Frankly, I take enough medication myself. I don’t want to be taking yours, too.”
Anderson said her 1950s-era septic system appeared to be chugging along just fine until last year when she had to fork over $8,000 to replace a tank.
The owner of a relatively large piece of property, she guessed that others with less accessible parcels might end up paying a whole lot more to upgrade their septic systems.
“Even though I just shelled out a lot of money for a new septic system, I’m still for the sewers because that’s the best thing to do for our community, our lakes and our water supplies,” she said.
Valerie J. Carol of Lake Lincolndale, on the other hand, argued: “Repairing your septic is cheaper than paying for an entire sewer district...forever.”
Carol accused the Town Board of “banking on” older residents moving out and younger folks moving in and increasing the size of their properties.
“It’s all about taxes,” she said.
Linda Luciano of Lake Shenorock charged the board with failing to address residents’ concerns, skirting questions, using misleading language to confuse the public about the project’s true costs and holding meetings that weren’t valid because, she said, the public hadn’t been properly notified.
Board members and town engineers answered dozens of questions submitted via email by residents—including Luciano—at the three-hour meeting. All meetings were properly publicized, town officials said.
Lake Lincolndale’s Janet Best said she doesn’t understand why the lake is considered “sick.” Calling it “spectacular,” she said it supports wildlife such as great blue herons.
Luana Kottmann of Lake Lincolndale said she felt “politics” were driving the move and is worried about what would happen to sewer district costs if nearby Lincoln Hall wanted to hook up.
Town officials pointed out that the private boys’ school has its own on-site sewage treatment facility. But even if it was sold and houses were built there, such a project would still need town and county approvals.
“It’s not been the county’s policy to allow rampant development, nor would there necessarily be the capacity available (at the Peekskill plant),” said Baroni, adding: “I don’t think that’s something that needs to be of concern.”
Judy Rath of Lake Lincolndale called the project “unwanted” and “unnecessary” and a ploy to push new taxes and development on residents.
None of the board members live in the communities, she said, claiming that they seem “eager to destroy these havens that we love.”
“Shame on you!” she admonished board members.
Lake Lincolndale’s Laura Arrotti-Herzegovitch pleaded otherwise.
“This will help our entire community, will increase our property values, benefit all homeowners. Please do not allow the loud voices of the few outweigh the community need. Those that oppose [the project] are landlords. They are moving out of the community. That is unfair to have their voices speak for all. We need the sewers in our community.”
Prior to convening the hearing Thursday, Morrissey asked residents to refrain from attacking “the character or ethics of elected officials or anyone else on the call.”
Councilman Thomas A. Garrity Jr. later commented that the sewer project has been one of the “toughest” issues he’s had to deal with in the 20 years he’s served in various town capacities.
Noting that he and Councilman Richard G. Clinchy both ran for the Town Board 13 years ago “as consensus builders,” Garrity said they’ve fought to get the “vitriol” out of government.
And while they don’t always agree with each other—or with the public—there’s “been a sense of mutual respect.”
Saying civil discourse is necessary and welcome, Garrity said he was nevertheless “disheartened” to hear board members being accused of having ulterior motives.
“We don’t. We’ve been doing things we believe are good for the town. We’re not doing it to help big builders, to raise taxes.
We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Clinchy urged homeowners to do some deep thinking before voting in November.
“If you believe that Lake Shenorock and Lake Lincolndale will be better off forever with septics, then I suppose you should vote ‘no.’ But if you believe that, at some point, you’d be better off with sewers, this is the time to do it,” he advised.
“Nobody’s getting anything forced down their throats. It’s the vote that counts. It’s a democracy.”