SOMERS, N.Y. - There may be some federal dollars in the pipeline that could help fund the installation of sewers in Lake Shenorock and Lake Lincolndale, Somers officials revealed last week.
The town also had other news for residents at a public hearing on the planned $62 million project held at Reis Park on Thursday, Aug. 20.
Consulting engineer Joe Barbagallo of Woodard & Curran said the county has agreed not to charge property owners in the proposed sewer district buy-in fees or operation and maintenance fees until construction begins.
“This was a substantial win for the residents of these two communities,” Barbagallo said.
Westchester holds the keys to letting Somers send wastewater to its treatment plant in Peekskill.
Until the district is formed, Somers can’t access the $10 million allocated as part of the East of Hudson Water Quality Improvement Program being funded by New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Nor can the town, which has been working on the project for two years, pursue other outside funding. Among those sources are the state Water Quality Improvement Program and the state Water Infrastructure Improvement Act.
If approved by voters, the project will start with the installation of sewer lines to tie in 103 properties in the R-10 zoning district. At full build-out, the project will enable 938 properties currently operating on septic systems to connect to the new lines.
Other towns that have snagged DEP’s money are North Salem, Yorktown, Bedford and New Castle.
The cost to individual property owners will be $1,187 a year, a figure that’s been disputed by some who feel the project is destined to pose an onerous financial burden.
The next hearing is set for Sept. 10, at a venue to be announced. Once the hearing is officially closed, the town has 60 to 75 days to hold a public referendum.
“The decision is yours; it’s not the town’s. Our obligation was to protect your environment, your drinking water, and your lakes,” Supervisor Rick Morrissey told residents.
The town’s chief argument for bringing public sewers to the lake communities is that aging septic systems—of which there are too many in too small a space—have been leaking, potentially endangering drinking water and speeding up the death of the lakes. It also claims sewers will increase property values.
Opponents say there are better ways to accomplish the same environmental goals. They fear their properties will be destroyed and their peaceful neighborhoods disrupted. The town says it will repair any damage that occurs.
They also publicly expressed distrust of the town, claiming that its real agenda is to raise taxes and to pave the way for developers.
Lake Lincolndale resident Marian Murtha made an impassioned speech against creation of the district.
Homeowners did not “sign up” for the project, she said, telling the board, “You are stuffing this down our throats!”
Supporters, on the other hand, contend that the benefits of sewers versus septics have been scientifically proven.
One of those, Ed Baran of Shenorock, put it this way: “I don’t want to wake up one morning and have my neighborhood smell like a sewer, so I think we need to get this done. Let’s move into the 21st century.”
Barbagallo said Thursday that Somers was working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to secure a $1.3 million grant under the federal Water Resources Development Act.
The town’s also been talking to county Legislators Vedat Gashi (D-Yorktown) and Kitley Covill (D-Katonah) about access to $3.5 million in additional East of Hudson funds to help cover the costs for low-income homeowners who would be served by the project.
Reis Park Crowd
The event was held outdoors because, under COVID-19 restrictions, Town Hall could not accommodate the expected crowd.
It got off to a rocky start when a handful of residents arrived after the 50-person limit had been reached and couldn’t be accommodated, sparking chants of “Let them in!” from members of the audience.
The hearing was held on Zoom and also recorded for viewing on the town’s YouTube channel. Written comments will also be taken.
Among those speaking against the proposal was Jay Batchelor of Lake Shenorock.
Handing the board a pamphlet describing a wastewater treatment system he said is in use in Westchester County, Batchelor was worried about what could happen to Somers if the county has to expand the Peekskill plant.
“When they get to 100 percent capacity, they’re going to float some God-awful bond and they will assess us halfway to the moon,” he said.
Linda Luciano of Lake Shenorock urged the town to limit the project to the homes that directly surround the lakes, saying that Yorktown had set up a district with only 315 properties.
“It didn’t lump a thousand homes together and force them to hook up,” she said.
Luciano also cast doubt on the town’s ability to get state funding for environmental projects.
Shenorock resident Stephanie McQuade Geiger said she bought a home in Lake Lincolndale because she wanted to raise her family in the same idyllic setting.
“I’m telling you, the science is clear. Our septic systems are too densely populated for where we live. We need to do this,” she said.
Lake Lincolndale’s Judy Rath, who owns two houses, said it would “break” her heart to see the character of the community changed, calling it a “beautiful, charming, unique and special place.”
Nothing the town can say will make her believe that its agenda is “not for development,” she said.
Rath said there were other ways the situation could have been handled. She suggested the town ramp up a public education campaign to stop residents from fertilizing their lawns and encouraging them to better maintain or replace aging septic systems.
Lisa Healy of Lake Lincolndale asked one of the town board members how he liked his frequent walks around the lake. “You enjoy it, correct? You do, or you wouldn’t do it. Just imagine all the building that’s going to be going on. No more walking around the lake for you,” she said.
Lake Lincolndale resident Susan Lawrence said she initially supported the project, but after talking to neighbors who don’t, has changed her mind.
“You used tax money to present your agenda. But you didn’t bother to present any of the alternatives, and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said.
Michael O’Keefe, head of the Lake Lincolndale Property Owners Association, has managed the lake for 27 years. The lake is part of the state’s Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program and its water is sent for testing to the Upstate Freshwater Institute in Syracuse. Among other things, the water is tested for phosphorus and other nutrients.
The results, O’Keefe said, made it “apparent” that “we needed to do something about the septic systems. They’re failing.”
Recent tests have found it contains caffeine and Sucralose, an artificial sweetener.
“These are things that are not coming in from the environment. These are things that are coming in from leaking septic systems,” O’Keefe said.
It was for these reasons, he added, that LLPOA’s board “has resolved that we are in favor of the public sewer system.”
An unidentified person in the crowd yelled: “You can’t do that!”
Morrissey adjourned public comment.