by Mickie Grover,
On May 19, 1997 the DEP held the "kick-off" meeting of the joint New York City-Westchester Croton CAC (Citizens Advisory Committee). We had been told we would meet at the Will Library in Yonkers despite (or because of) the fact that no one from Yonkers had attended the original meeting in Valhalla last month. On Friday the 16th we were informed that the meeting would instead be held at Yonkers City Hall. No reason was given.
We arrived at Town Hall and were courteously directed to the Mayor's Conference Room where we were provided with an agenda. A conference table in the center of the room was surrounded by ten comfortable chairs. Crammed into one end of the room were forty folding chairs. Approximately seventy people attended.
Mayor Spencer of Yonkers called the meeting to order from his seat at the head of the table by expressing surprise at the number of people in the room. Then Commissioner Miele (he exists!), sitting at the foot of the table with his back to most of the "audience", began to read his prepared statement. Fred Nelson from Bronx Community Board 12 called from the jam of folding chairs that he couldn't hear -- perhaps the Commissioner could move. Commissioner Miele, without turning around, positively snapped that anyone who couldn't hear should themselves move. He then continued to read to the tabletop. Under the circumstances it was difficult to follow his remarks.
The Commissioner did, however, say that he had constituted the new CAC only because he was legally mandated to do so. This hardly augers well for the process. He also at one point referred to it as the CEC and reiterated that the DEP would not release "conclusionary information" but only "non-conclusionary information" to the citizenry. He noted that the EPA is demanding a 2007 opening date for a filtration plant, but he claimed the DEP was pursuing studies of other alternatives.
The fan was turned off during this speech but then we had to open the windows so the improvement in acoustics was moot. Commissioner Miele went on for more than his scheduled ten minutes but without a copy of his speech it is impossible to be sure what else he said. Much of it seemed familiar from the December meeting in Yorktown and the May meeting in Valhalla, neither of which were attended by the Commissioner.
There was no doubt that the next talk, "Croton Extended Special Study" by Warren Kurtz, was familiar. Definitely the third time around. It becomes no more interesting or informative with repetition. The Croton is currently in compliance with Federal Standards and the DEP is studying the possibility of "alternatives" to filtration. It is accompanied by charts.
Next we were treated to "Water Quality Modeling and Non-filtration Options" by John St. John of HydroQual. This the consulting company mentioned at the Valhalla meeting. Mr. St. John a technical expert, the Senior Vice President and Chief Engineer of his company, could not turn on the overhead projector. He spent most of his time giving his resume and that of his company. They work, he said, both "for the regulators and the regulated" and both he and HydroQual are honest.
At this point another DEP presenter rose. However, Paul Moskowitz of the Friends of the Croton Watershed and CAC member jumped up, "I have a question." There was a pause. Mr. Moskowitz said, "We can ask questions, can't we? It says on the agenda we can ask questions after each presentation and I have one for Mr. St. John." Several DEP people said of course. Then Mr. Moskowitz asked, "First, who's in charge?" Everyone laughed.
Mayor Spencer leapt to his feet and said, "Yonkers is just hosting the meeting. Just providing this room. It is the DEP's meeting." The Mayor was clearly enjoying himself. He again said he hadn't realized how many people would be at the meeting and apologized for the uncomfortable setting. He asked Mr. Miele to move to the head of the table to chair the meeting. It only highlighted the Commissioner's earlier turning of his back on the members of the CAC.
Mr. Moskowitz then asked the Senior Vice President of HydroQual, "Are you the same John St. John whom we saw on television trying to convince the Governor of New Jersey that it was okay to dump raw sewage into New York Harbor?" Mr. St. John admitted he was and Mr. Moskowitz asked if that were one of his successes or failures. Mr. St. John said it was a success and he attributed opposition to the plan to "hysteria."
After that the rest of the agenda disappeared in a barrage of questions and statements from CAC members, other members of the public, and elected officials.
The Yorktown CAC had sent, at the DEP's request, a list of questions to be addressed at this meeting. The Commissioner did not, as far as we could tell, do so during his speech. Glen Johnson asked the first of the questions on the list: "How do we get information that the DEP doesn't want to release.?" The DEP representatives insisted they were not hiding anything and it merely took some time for the review. Mr. Johnson was asked to yield the floor before he had the opportunity to pose the other questions. Thus the DEP avoided fulfilling its promise to address the Yorktown CAC's questions.
Councilman DeNoto of Yonkers said that "the EPA seems to have a fetish for filtration plants," and the head of the Yonkers City Council said that the DEP was playing "'Let's Make a Deal'. You're setting us up. How do we know you haven't already made a deal?"
Mayor Spencer reiterated his refusal to play by the DEP rules and said he would not appoint any citizens to the CAC, that he and the City Council represented Yonkers and would do so on the CAC. (The CAC by-laws prohibit elected officials from being members.)
The Mayor announced that "The governor returns my calls. The Cardinal returns my calls. But Rudy?" His point is that the issue should be dealt with by the officials elected by the people, not by appointees. He, as mayor of Yonkers, should be consulted by the mayor of New York City. He should not be summoned to a meeting by a Commissioner of New York City. Nor should any of the citizens of Westchester.
Paul Elston of Community Board 8 in the Bronx stated that there had been widely divergent acreage requirements cited by the DEP over the last several years, from 10 to 40 versus 40 to 50. The DEP said they have been consistent the apparent discrepancies arise when discussing the clearwell and the plant at one site or separated.
Several people had noted that all the studies had to do with secondary standards, such as color and taste, rather than health. The DEP repeated that the Croton meets all health standards. Mr. Elston raised the issue again. If there is no health problem why do we need the plant. Commissioner Miele said that the Croton meets current standards but that the standards may change and we have to be ready for "scientific discoveries that change the standards." If Commissioner Miele, or his staff, can anticipate future scientific discoveries, he should let the rest of us know.
Mr. Elston said "There is not a document that justifies six hundred or eight hundred million dollars." And Commissioner Miele replied, "We are trying to come up with that document."
Frank Eadie of the Sierra Club announced that Congressman Engel has introduced a bill (H.R. 1284) that would require the EPA to allow any municipality a second chance to apply for avoidance. The original deadline was 1992.
During his presentation Mr. St. John said that HydroQual had completed the analysis of the DEP data from 1989 to date and that the analysis of non-filtration strategies would be completed by July 31, 1997. I asked if we could have the part of the study that was completed and how soon after the end of July we would get the rest. Mr. St. John said the study was completed but not delivered to the Commissioner yet. I asked the Commissioner when we would get the information. He said he would have to review and see if it was "conclusionary" or not before he decided s to release it. I pointed out that many members of CAC were somewhat hostile because the DEP keeps saying we will get information, but whenever we ask for something specific there is always an excuse. The Commissioner said things had to be reviewed. I said, "Let me ask this more rudely. Will we get any information before November. That is, before the election." I did not get an answer.
There were no refreshments.