Critics are continuing to take digs at Somers’ plan for a sewer district in Lake Shenorock and Lake Lincolndale, claiming it presents too many unknowns.
Top on their hit list was the multimillion-dollar project’s “map, plan and report” now being reviewed by the state comptroller. That approval is contingent on the outcome of a public vote on the project expected to be held in December.
According to Shenorock resident Linda Luciano, the map fails to show at least six properties that lie within the district’s boundaries. This is important because anyone left off will have to petition to get into the district once it’s formed.
Speaking at the Town Board meeting Thursday, Luciano also chided the town for not including “possible” financing charges in summary tables for Phase 1.
“It was left off on purpose,” so folks would be misled about their individual costs, she claimed.
District foes have been arguing that many residents in the lake communities cannot afford to give up their septic systems and pay for public sewers. They also worry that more homes will be built and the character of their working-class neighborhood will change.
Those who might argue for the system have been mostly silent in public, although there have been posts on social media sites stating that the lakes’ pollution problems will only get bigger–and more expensive–the longer the town waits to fix them.
The number of septic systems in the two lake communities is 40 to 50 times greater than environmental experts recommend.
The town lies within several watersheds. It, and its engineers, say switching over to sewers–and continuing to battle nutrient-laden stormwater runoff–will not only protect New York City’s and local clean water supplies, but enhance recreational opportunities at the lakes, both victims of eutrophication.
Lake Shenorock has been closed to swimming for years. Lake Lincolndale suffered a blue-green algae bloom this summer that led to a prohibition of swimming.
Steven Robbins, of Woodard & Curran, the town’s consulting engineers, explained the reason for the so-called missing column in the Phase 1 capital costs table.
Homeowners affected in Phase 1 will pay county buy-in fees and operation and maintenance costs once they are hooked up, he said. Eventually, as the $63 million project progresses and borrowing occurs, they will have to foot financing charges like everyone else, he said.
There is $10 million in New York City Department of Environmental Protection funds available to the town for improvements to infrastructures such as sewer mains and pumping stations. Somers is pursuing another $3 million in outside funding for Phase 1 and plans to pursue more grants as well as take out a 30-year bond.
Town Attorney Roland A. Baroni Jr. pointed out that the report explains that all property owners will face financing fees once the district starts borrowing money.
Luciano said she understood that “legally” that was correct, but argued that most people will only look at tables and aren’t “going to read all these paragraphs.”
She called on the town to “reopen the process” and fix the document.
“People cannot vote on something that has flaws in it. It’s not fair or just.”
Robbins said engineers researched developed parcels using county data from 2016.
He was aware of only one property—a parcel on Crest Drive in Lake Shenorock—that had been “inadvertently” left off the map.
It was, he said, developed between the initial phases and creation of the map, plan and report.
The owners of that property can petition to join the district later, Robbins said.
Supervisor Rick Morrissey asked whether that one omission was a “fatal flaw” in the map, plan and report. Baroni said he was told by the state comptroller that it was not.
However, he promised, the town will determine whether the six properties mentioned by Luciano—or any others—are indeed missing. If so, it will ask the state comptroller “if anything needs to be done.”
Meanwhile, the town is hoping Westchester legislators will allow it to send wastewater to the county treatment plant in Peekskill.
Without that access, the whole exercise could be moot even if the sewer district is approved by voters.
The deadline for turning in petitions seeking a “permissive referendum” was Friday, Oct. 11. At least 126 signatures had been collected by Thursday, Oct. 3.
Once the town clerk determines their validity, the town has no less than 60 days, and no more than 75, to hold a vote. That means it could take place between Wednesday, Dec. 11, and Wednesday, Dec. 25.
The board is holding a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, to set a date and time for the vote. It will take place at the Town House.
Only property owners in the proposed district can vote. Renters or tenants cannot, Baroni said.
Whether the referendum goes up or down depends on the majority of those eligible to vote, who actually come out and vote, “the same as any other election,” he explained.
Each owner of a property is entitled to vote, as long as their name is on the deed.
However, each person, or entity, is only entitled to cast a single ballot no matter how many parcels they/it may own.
Baroni had previously said there would be one vote per parcel, but corrected himself Thursday after reviewing the relevant statutes.
Lake Lincolndale resident Lisa Healy said she felt tenants and other adults who live on a particular property, but who are not identified on a deed, should be able to vote on the property owner’s behalf.
Baroni urged her to read the state comptroller’s opinion and town law, both posted online.
Healy implied that his interpretation of the election law seems to be “changing to benefit the sewer.”
“I’d be a little embarrassed if I were you,” she told the attorney.
“An issue was brought up, we researched it and we’re coming back to you with factual information,” Morrissey said.
Partnerships, corporations and LLCs are entitled “to only a single vote.”
People in the audience seemed shocked when Baroni, citing laws on the formation of special districts, announced that there would be no absentee balloting.
Luciano noted that there are “71 people who have homes here and they don’t live here,” adding, “That ain’t right.”
Things got heated when Healy accused the town of deliberately complicating the petitioning process.
Baroni explained that there are two ways a special district can be formed: one, if residents themselves petition for it, and two, if the town adopts a resolution forming the district contingent upon the outcome of a public vote. The public has 30 days after the resolution passes to petition for a referendum.
“You as a board decided we were going to have this sewer district and then you had your meetings and people started coming out, raising the questions, raising the issues and THEN you said we can do a petition,” Healy continued.
“It’s a different petition,” Baroni responded. “Residents could have initiated for the district. It’s a complicated area.”
After Healy retorted, “It’s not complicated; you’re making it complicated,” Morrissey banged his gavel and announced he had “heard enough.”
She then challenged the supervisor to “call the police to come and get me.”
Morrissey, assuring her that wasn’t his intention, said, “You’re being rude, that’s all.” But Healy wouldn’t back down. “I’m not being rude. I’m trying to get clarity.”
Healy said she fears for the future of Lake Lincolndale, a “very special place,” if the sewer project goes through.
“Financially, this plan is going to make it a very different neighborhood. This is my investment, so I have a stake in it,” she said.
Councilman Richard Clinchy denied Thursday that the board was being less than transparent.
Town officials have pointed out numerous times that information–including the full map, plan, and report–is available on the town website. Public hearings have been held, the properties involved published in the local paper, and informal discussions conducted in both communities.
Clinchy told the crowd that he personally has “100 percent confidence that there never has been one millisecond of intent by anyone involved with this to mislead, leave out, or in any way obfuscate any piece of information. Could it be more clear? Yes, of course, so we appreciate the input to do that.”
Morrissey reiterated that he thinks the referendum is a “good thing.”
“Everyone will have a vote. And we’ll live with the results. Actually, the residents of Lincolndale and Shenorock will live with the results.”