Yorktown dodges massive plant

City selects Bronx site for filtration facility

by Brian J. Howard

North County News - December 2, 1998

As expected, New York City continued on a collision course toward building a massive Croton filtration plant by the year 2007, but officials announced yesterday (Tuesday) it won't be in the Town of Yorktown.

Complying with the consent decree of a lawsuit filed by the federal government, the city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced yesterday the plant would be built in the Bronx.

Specifically, a plant site has been selected within the Mosholu Golf Course in the Bronx.

In a written statement, DEP officials said the chosen site offered ``the least potential for significant impacts during construction, and there would be no significant impacts posed by operation of the filtration plant facilities.''

After construction is finished, the plant would be underground and a driving range, golf course, and clubhouse would be replaced overhead.

Other advantages the city cited for the 10-acre, $660 million plant at the Mosholu site included a lessened impact on residential neighborhoods and the co-location of a 20-million-gallon treated water reservoir and a finished water pumping station.

Some of the 17 alternatives the city studied for the plant, which will filter 290 million gallons of water a day, called for those facilities to be scattered among several of the eight sites considered.

The plant will cost the city roughly $11 million a year to operate.

The DEP cited various reasons why it rejected the several sites it looked at over the past year.

A potential $15 million annual property tax bill and the prospect of building the plant directly in the Croton Reservoir made Yorktown an unpalatable choice.

``The last Westchester site, at New Croton Reservoir Cove, has the highest costs and the most significant environmental impact,'' the DEP stated.

Building the plant within its own borders will save the city millions of dollars that might otherwise have poured into Westchester tax coffers.

The Croton Watershed provides 10 percent of the city's drinking water, up to 30 percent in times of drought.

Not in Yorktown

Even though the plant won't rise up out of the Croton Reservoir's Cove Site alongside the northbound lane of the Taconic Parkway in Yorktown, local opponents to the plant weren't entirely satisfied with yesterday's decision.

``The point about the filtration plant is this is an unwanted and unnecessary facility no matter where they put it,'' said Paul Moskowitz of Hunterbrook Road, a founding member of Friends of the Croton Watershed. ``That is, it's a billion-dollar boondoggle, and it's a misappropriation of our money.''

Croton water already meets all federal drinking water quality standards and the DEP knows this, he pointed out.

The city ought to focus on watershed protection and upgrading its distribution system, which allows infiltration to the tune of two to four million gallons of surface water daily, Moskowitz added.

``The filtration plant is a vast public works project for New York City,'' he said, ``and it's an excuse to allow the water in the watershed to deteriorate.''

Rosemarie Panio of Morningview Drive, also an FCW member, said she was glad the area's scenic vistas were spared the blight of a filtration plant but stressed watershed protection still needed to be pursued.

``I can't hide the fact that I'm deeply relieved that it's not going to be in Yorktown,'' said Panio, a member of the state Watershed Council. ``But I think that we need to remember that we have to pursue the avenues of protecting the watershed in perpetuity.''

Yorktown Councilman Nicholas Bianco conceded the town may have dodged a bullet in light of the city's announcement, but maintained it was a reflection of significant grassroots efforts.

``The need for (filtration) is still debatable, and that's a fight that I think they should pursue,'' Bianco said. ``I think they should fight that they don't need to do it. If we can curtail the development around our reservoirs, I think we can show that there's no need to filter the water.''

Supervisor Linda Cooper said it was important for Yorktown to stay involved in the filtration process, if only because the town buys its water from the city.

Just because the plant won't be built in Yorktown does not mean it is no longer an important issue to Yorktown residents, she said.

``Everything that New York City does with respect to the water supply affects us,'' said Cooper. ``We buy water from New York City. Our rates are dependent on the cost that New York City incurs to keep its water clean.''

Moskowitz noted the Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition, of which the FCW is a part, has sued to overturn the consent decree between the city and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The CWCWC has argued the determination over whether to pursue filtration or non-filtration alternatives was made behind closed doors and without any public hearing as required by law.

``We think this is illegal and unfair, and that's why we're in court,'' he said.

While the selection of a site for the plant is important, he added, it is just another step in a greater process. And the arguments against filtration haven't changed regardless of where the plant is built.

``It's another step,'' said Moskowitz, ``but the battle isn't over. We're still in there fighting.''