SOMERS, N.Y. - Whether the Somers residents in two lake communities where a $62 million sewer project has been proposed are for or against it, they should be able to stick to the facts without resorting to personal attacks, town officials say.
“Getting public input’s what this town’s about,” Supervisor Rick Morrissey said Thursday, Oct. 8, urging Lake Shenorock and Lake Lincolndale residents to “agree to disagree.”
“November 10th, we’re going to put this to bed. Exercise your right to vote and then we’ll move on whatever the outcome is.”
Several Town Board members have decried the frequently contentious nature of the public debate, saying they have been unfairly targeted by allegations that they care more about tax revenues than the rights of property owners.
Said Councilman Thomas A. Garrity Jr.: “You can say you don’t like me. You can say you don’t agree with my decisions. But don’t accuse me of being unethical or committing a crime. Because we’re not.”
The supervisor and four board members are, he added, “doing what we each individually think is right with everything that comes before us.”
Garrity’s seen a lot of controversy over issues—cell towers, to name one—over the years, but never like this.
“To think that we’re getting anything out of this is ridiculous,” he said.
Lake Shenorock resident Linda Luciano told the board Thursday that she was “deeply concerned” about a new pro-sewers website, somerscleanwater.com, that was launched last week.
(Foes of the project have a website, as well—somerssewers.com.)
The pro-sewer site’s creators state that their mission is to protect drinking water and the two lakes, which experts say are being harmed by nutrients leaking from faulty septic systems and runoff from fertilized lawns.
Those contributing to the web site are identified and their reasoning for supporting the creation of Somers Sewer District 2 included.
Morrissey opined that everyone has the right to have a website and to voice their individual opinions.
“As far as Town Board members go, look, we’re pro-sewer. It’s not unethical...We believe this is in the best interest of the town of Somers,” he said.
The septic systems in the two former summer communities are situated in such a “dense” manner, he said, “It’s just a matter of time before environmental problems become greater than they currently are.”
Luciano agreed that accusing anyone of trying to line his or her pockets as a result of the project was “terrible.”
She also addressed speculation that Lincoln Hall, a live-in facility for disadvantaged youth off Route 202, someday might want to tie into the sewer system, a worry among sewer opponents.
Luciano said she had just found out that, in fact, the school is trying to sell some of its 450 acres.
“It makes people wonder why this process is being pushed so hard,” she said.
The town has pointed out that Lincoln Hall has its own wastewater treatment facility and that facility has a greater capacity than the school currently needs.
Besides, town officials have said, the board can’t predict what the school or future boards may do.
“Lincoln Hall is trying to sell off some property. They are zoned R-120, so they can put in 23 McMansions if they wanted to,”
Morrissey acknowledged Thursday.
Lincoln Hall representatives could not be reached for comment by press time.
Regarding the negative tack taken in the campaign against the project, Luciano asked, “How do you think we feel when all of the proponents you have been talking to behind our backs attack us on social media and say horrible things?”
Some opponents also have slammed board members because they do not live in the lake communities, Garrity said.
“If we could get hooked into a sewer, I’d love to where I live. I’d sign up for it tomorrow. But maybe some of my neighbors wouldn’t want to and I get that,” he said.
Town leaders also had something to say about complaints that the town has dragged its feet getting out information about the voting process, such as how to cast absentee ballots.
Morrissey, assuring residents that that information would be mailed the next day (Friday, Oct. 9), said it took time to get the envelopes and ballots printed.
He also reminded residents that last year, in the midst of discussions about a public vote, the town had learned the state does not allow absentee ballots in certain special elections. Now—because of health concerns raised by the coronavirus pandemic—it does.
The fact that federal, state and county guidance is ever-evolving makes it hard to plan ahead.
Garrity said he hoped the public discourse could “be civil” over the next month.
“The vote is set; it’s going to happen. We’re putting it in your hands,” he said.