Friends of the Croton Watershed

The DEP Let Us Eat Cake

April 17, 1997 Croton CAC (Citizens Advisory Committee) Meeting

by Mickie Grover,
member Friends of the Croton Watershed
and disgruntled citizen

On April 17, 1997 the DEP hosted an organizing meeting of the Croton CAC (Citizens Advisory Committee). This new CAC, according to the DEP letter of invitation, "will bring together concerned citizens, community leaders and other stakeholders from both Westchester County and New York City to advise this department and our consultants as we continue our review of the Croton water supply." The DEP will hold an organizing meeting in New York City on April 24th and a "kick-off" meeting of the entire Croton CAC on May 19th in Yonkers.

The DEP, including Eric Axelson whom we all remember from the "informational meeting" in Yorktown last December, gave a presentation on the "CAC Process" and their plans for an "Extended Croton Study."

After this presentation Paul Moskowitz of the Friends of the Croton Watershed asked the first question. What, he wondered, had become of the schedule the DEP had presented at the December meeting. "Those milestones no longer apply," replied Tony Bellitto of the DEP. When Moskowitz expressed surprise at this, we were told the City wants to "keep its options open."

The new process lists 28 reports, for or against filtration as well as a choice of site if filtration is deemed necessary, to be prepared before the decision date of December. This coming December. Since the reports are interconnected, the DEP does not expect to have any of them prior to November-- apparently this includes the interim report.

The DEP insisted that they would have to distill the technical information to make it understandable. They also refused to go into detail about the computer modeling they would be using since it is too complicated for us. They did not think to ask how many scientists and engineers were sitting at the table as members of the CAC. None of us deemed it strategic at this time to call them on their idiocy in assuming the members of the public are idiots.

Eric Axelson, and the other DEP representatives, insisted the process was open and all information would be available (at some unspecified time) to the CAC. Moskowitz asked for copies of the permitting studies. The "Scope of Work" handed out by the DEP listed these reports as already completed. They huffed and puffed. He asked why they were refusing to give him the information. The DEP said they weren't refusing but they didn't know if the information was in a format they could release. This for something they admitted was already completed. It does not bode well for the process.

A long discussion ensued with the CAC members demanding information and the DEP insisting they would provide it but refusing to say when or what they would provide. They did say they would provide data in a form we could understand (they spent a lot of time telling us we were stupid -- perhaps our showing up convinced them of it). But they will not tell us what they are thinking or doing. They are not going to make any "preliminary judgments" until all the information is in and they have written the final reports -- a pretty neat trick.

Clinton Smith, Supervisor New Castle, asked how he could ask anyone to serve on the CAC when he had no idea what it would involve and the DEP wouldn't tell him anything. The DEP insisted they were open. The DEP said more information would be forthcoming at the May 19th meeting and the Commissioner Miele will be in attendance. Mr. Smith replied, "Oh boy. I'll be sure to get to that meeting on time." He got the biggest and most appreciative laugh of the evening.

The DEP has contracted HydroQual (aha! a fact) to do the computer modelling (which we are too dull to comprehend.) This is the company that gave the presentation claiming it would be fine to dump raw sewage into New York Harbor.

Finally the DEP representatives left the room so that we could organize ourselves. No one was willing to be chair. We are willing to be co-opted only so far. Besides how could we organize without Yonkers. (Yonkers was invited to send six representatives, but none were present.) However, we agreed to meet before the end of April to formulate the agenda we want addressed at the May meeting.

The bureaucratic dance of pretending to consult the public it supposedly serves was invented the day after the first bureaucracy appeared. The steps have remained unchanged through the centuries. After the meeting, in the hallway, Paul Moskowitz asked Eric Axelson, "Does your mother know what you do for a living?"

The DEP served us tea and coffee, melons and strawberries -- and yes, they let us eat cake. Coffee cake, but cake nonetheless.

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