Dont shortchange study of New York City water filter plant
(Publication date: 2/9/1998)

An Editorial. Copyright 1998 Gannett Suburban Newspapers.

As New York City prepares to kick off a final search for a site for a massive filtration plant for the Croton Reservoir system, its actions will show whether it is serious about working with Westchester and Putnam counties to protect a common water source in the best way possible -- or whether the city's overriding priority is solving a political problem for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at whatever the cost to its northern suburbs.

The first test will be how fully New York City commits to addressing the project's potentially enormous implications for Westchester and Putnam in an environmental impact statement on seven proposed sites, four in Westchester. Three other sites are in the Bronx, where middle-class residents galvanized to convince New York City officials to keep the plant out of their neighborhood.

New York City insists that there is no preferred site, and that the study will guide it toward a final choice late this year. If that's true, the EIS offers an opportunity to beyond the expected review of local traffic, environmental and economic impacts to get some important answers. As speakers helped made clear at a public hearing at Westchester Community College in Valhalla Thursday night, the EIS should:

Study whether iltering Croton water would promote development pressures on remaining open space in northern Westchester and Putnam and, if so, what the effects will be on surrounding communities;

Look seriously at whether nonfiltration measures, such as stricter land-use regulations, are an effective alternative to filtration;

Detail how the cost of the plant would influence water rates for customers outside New York City;

Outline whether a New York City plant could still save any Westchester communities the cost of building or buying into local filtration plants, or whether all are too far along with their own plans;

Include the city's position on whether it would try to use eminent domain powers to build a plant over a Westchester community's objections.

A representative of Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, was right to tell New York City officials Thursday night that the EIS should put the city's position on the table and detail what the potential effects of using those powers would be. We would urge the city to build a plant in Westchester only if it can convince a host community that economic and other benefits outweigh drawbacks.

In Westchester, the study will look at sites in the Croton Reservoir itself, in the southern section of Yorktown; the Eastview area of Greenburgh and a nearby section of Mount Pleasant, on Route 100C; and Yonkers Raceway. In the Bronx, the sites are in the Jerome Park neighborhood and Van Cortlandt Park.

Opposition has already surfaced in Westchester, both because of concerns over the size of the plant and operations to support it, and disagreement over whether Croton water even needs to be filtered. The plant would rise nine stories high, sprawl over 8 to 10 acres and cost from $500 million to $900 million. At this point, the city is under federal order to filter the Croton system. But many environmentalists believe that, if the city could reopen that question, it could find another way to meet proposed water-quality standards.

We look forward to seeing that question and other local concerns explored in the environmental impact study.