County Exec Candidates Meet For First Debate

The debate was hosted by the Rockland Water Coalition

Though the November election is still months away, candidates for Rockland County executive debated for the first time Thursday night.

The debate was organized and hosted by the Rockland Water Coalition. Democrats Ilan Schoenberger, Vladimir Leon, David Fried and Dagan Lacorte, and lone Republican Ed Day participated. 

The crowd packed into the auditorium at Clarkstown Town Hall for the debate, which centered around many environmental issues facing the county. The first question of the night asked the candidates about United Water’s desalination plant proposal in West Haverstraw. Four of the candidates said they oppose the desalination plant, while Leon said he isn’t opposed to desalination as a concept, but would want to make sure the water isn’t privatized.

The second question also focused on the desalination plant, asking the candidates about the increased cost of the plant.

LaCorte said that as the mayor of Suffern, he runs the water utility there and has dealt with United Water. However, he thinks another issue is connected the desalination plant.

“Bigger than the issue of the desal plant is the overall fact that our county government is broken, that our budget for planning is down 41 percent in two years and we only have one full-time planner to review all these projects in the county and the planning board doesn’t meet in public,” he said. “What we need to do is invest in our planning department and commit real resources to look at these large projects, like the desal plant.”

Fried, the former Spring Valley justice, said that before they look at desalination, they should look further into water being taken from Lake DeForest and being brought to New Jersey. He said the contract with Bergen County is up in September.

“I’ve called upon the current county executive to make sure that he’s intervening,” Fried said. “We should only be sharing the water that we have to share and there should be severe penalties for water that is shared in excess of our agreement. As county executive, I will make sure that those standards are enforced. The reason that this is so important is because the lack of water is the justification that United Water uses to support their claim that we need the desal plant.”

The candidates were also asked about overdevelopment, and whether high-density development is beneficial to Rockland and sustainable. Leon said he’d work to preserve Rockland’s resources and the parts of the county important to residents. The two county legislators, Day and Schoenberger, had differing opinions on the matter. Day said the county can insert itself into public planning, and warned that overdevelopment can be dangerous, especially if it leads to housing illegally converted to apartments, which can create added hazards for firefighters and other emergency responders. Schoenberger didn’t think county government should involve itself with local planning.

“The county legislature and county executive, in my opinion, cannot and should not go into towns and villages and tell the towns what it can or can’t build, or what it should or shouldn’t build. That’s an issue of local control,” he said. “I don’t believe the public would want the county executive to go into your town or your village and say you must build this or you can’t build that. Under state law, land use is reserved for local control  for the towns and villages.”

Another question focused on Indian Point and the evacuation plan. The four Democratic candidates said they want Indian Point closed, and Fried called the evacuation plan “insane.” Day said he’d like to review the evacuation plan.

“What I can do with certainty and accuracy and experience and knowledge, I can take a look at that plan specifically with the experience of a law enforcement executive and be able to make a judgement on whether or not that plan is viable or not and be able to extend that experience, in cooperation with the rest of the law enforcement executives in the county, and bring that to bear on the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission],” Day said.

Leon is the only candidate running so far who has never been an elected official. He said Thursday night was his first debate. However, he quite literally ended up standing above his opponents. That’s because Leon said sitting was making him uncomfortable and asked if he could stand up while answering questions. When it came to issues in the county, Leon pointed to how things are running currently.

“We have to control mismanagement. We have real mismanagement in the county, and it’s bad,” he said.

“We have to be consistent with what we do. Right now we are not consistent.”

When asked what the county needs to do moving forward with its fiscal climate, Leon talked a lot about sustainability. He also said his office would practice “transparency, efficiency, accountability and preservation.”

LaCorte said the county government is large, but opposed cutting departments that are needed to help fix the hole Rockland faces, such as the planning department.

“There’s overlapping between towns and villages, and people are often unclear,” he said. “I have people all the time saying, ‘are you running for [Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher] St. Lawrence’s job, you’re running for county executive?’ People don’t know. But what they do know is they have concerns, and I do not think that we can have an adequate role as a county government, as a county executive, if we’re completely cutting funding and gutting funding from those very departments that are supposed to review these large-scale projects.”

Schoenberger and LaCorte were really the only two candidates who had somewhat contentious back-and-forth discussions on Thursday night, many focusing on the budget from the other candidate’s office. Schoenberger criticized LaCorte for bringing ideas from a village government to the county level because they wouldn’t translate well. 

“The county government is unlike any town or village,” Schoenberger said. “We’re the ones who carry the burden of state mandated costs. Yes, county taxes went up 18 percent this year, and every single penny of that 18 percent increase went to pay the increase, the increase of pension alone. No other costs.”

Day said moving forward the county needs someone residents can look to for guidance.

“What this comes down to is leadership,” he said. “I’ve been battling development that’s been untoward to this county for years as a citizen representative. I’ve spoken out and gotten things done.”

Fried also talked about the need for a leader.

“There are going to be very difficult choices for the next county executive, whoever it is, and so far in the course of the campaign, my team and I have been putting forward very specific plans on how to restructure and how to save money,” he said. “I think that the cuts have to start at the top. It doesn’t save that much money, but I believe that if you want to be county executive you have to set an example of leadership. That’s why I want to downsize the county executive’s office. I don’t need $150,000 a year. I’m here to serve, and I don’t think that the Rockland County Legislature should be immune from that process either. Throughout the government, I think we just need to rethink our approaches.”

George Potanovic, Jr. April 20, 2013 at 01:54 PM
CR, Defender, Watchdog. You all have a lot to say. But, what are your real names? .. or do you just like to throw stones at others from behind your screen names? At least we are being honest enough to put our real names on our real opinions.
CR April 20, 2013 at 02:11 PM
Just because I don't reveal my real name doesn't make my comments any less valid. Facts speak for themselves whether they're spoken in anonymity or with a name attached. Conversely, just because you and others provide your names doesn't validate your opionions any more or less. I am not throwing stones at the individuals, just at their statements. I'm sure you're all fine people, I just don't agree with what you're saying. I believe your position is based more on emotion and rhetoric, while the water company is using science and facts to support its stance. Finally, you keep attacking United Water. They were ordered to build a facility and determined, through facts and science, that the Desal plant would be the best and least expensive option. The company isn't trying to ram the project down the public's throat. They have been invovled in a painstaking fact-finding mission to reveal the operational, financial and environmental impacts through the DEIS process which I have stated before is robust and transparent and presided over by experts in the water treatment field.
Dean Kernan April 20, 2013 at 02:11 PM
A couple more thoughts after a decent night's sleep: 1) The desal plant is the least costly to build to solve the water shortage--true in terms of the cost projections provided at the time of UW's proposal, but there are two issues with this. One issue I tried to raise (and George said more clearly)--desal is cheaper to build--but--much more expensive to run than a dam project like Ambrey Pond. Those costs are born by consumers--and despite all the mud-slinging and the accusations of lying--the costs I cite above of an increase to $1250/yr for the average household for water after desal are taken directly from UW's own projections. The second issue with this argument is that those cost projections by UW are accurate--and only recently have UW acknowledged that the treatment of the sludge produced in the processing of water may overload the existing waste treatment system--and that may require upgrading. There have also been (unsubstantiated) rumors that the power demands of the plant will require upgrading of the electrical infrastructure to service the plant. So more costs there.
Dean Kernan April 20, 2013 at 02:12 PM
Even if the cost picture is close--the bigger issue is--what price to you put on priceless natural resources? Haverstraw Bay is the spawning ground for Atlantic sturgeon, and is a thriving unique ecosystem. The problem with defining costs narrowly--"the plant will cost x"--is that is doesn't capture (or provide for) any of what economists call 'negative externalities'. There are reports of fish kills and die offs in Australia in the area of UW desal plants, and although the causality is not yet established, it should give us pause before we start dumping highly salinated water back into Haverstraw Bay. Despite the accusations of 'fringe group' and 'lunatic' hurled at the Coalition, the respectable scientists working with RiverKeeper have sounded the alarm because such a change in the water could harm Haverstraw Bay. If you value that ecosystem at $0--then desal is the cheapest. If you think the extraordinary diversity of the ecosystem is literally priceless--then desal looks like it is a bad choice.
CR April 20, 2013 at 02:15 PM
Dean, I don't know if you read my post above in response to George's claim regarding the ultimate cost of the Desal plant, but the customer cost is a combination of both the construction cost and operating cost. The total projected impact to customers (for construction and operation) is contained in the DEIS and the Desal plant is much less expensive. Please check it out before stating any more "facts".
Dean Kernan April 20, 2013 at 02:15 PM
Final comment (I promise): Issy has stated that Lake Deforest is irrelevant to the problem of the water shortage we face. If that is true, why is UW only now making the long-needed repairs and upgrades to the dam--upgrades that would have allowed for better water management than they managed in the past.
CR April 20, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Marty, I did not call you ignorant, I called your comment ingnorant. There's a big difference. I'm sorry anyway. Again, look at the DEIS. There is an analysis of the wastewater reuse and its cost is much higher than the Desal plant. This is why I get so frustrated with some of your (and other's) comments. You state them emphatically and then people take them as fact. Your statement is 100% false regarding the wastewater reuse. I'm having a hard time refraining from characterizing your statement any differently than I did the one I just apologized for.
Rita J April 20, 2013 at 05:19 PM
The fact is, UW should go to Desal as a very last resort, not the first. The plan to provide "needed" water is based on what we will need in 20 years. Michael Pointing said to me, several times, they have to plan for the worst possible scenario. Much could happen in the next 10-20 years with climate change and population shifts. This project is premature, at best, and abusive to the people of Rockland, at worst. We, the residents of Rockland, just spent $168 million dollars on a high tech waste treatment plant in Hillburn that produces water one step short of potable. The Town of Ramapo tried to get United Water to join them in the venture and realize the benefit of an additional 3MGD of water immediately, at a fraction of the cost of Desal. United Water walked away. If it was really about needing more water, why would they do that??
Liliana Connor April 20, 2013 at 06:30 PM
CR, I quoted to you the official record stating the 3 parties who had caused this situation in New Jersey, and United Water was one of them. And I quote the record: "UW, without acknowledging liability, agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement with 69 families whose children were diagnosed with cancer." In exchange for paying this multi-million dollar settlement, UW requested that it "not have to acknowledge liability." But this mere transaction clearly shows that they were, in fact, liable. And when I stated this at the public hearing, UW's outspoken attorney, who was responding to comments, did not comment on this. UW's settlement is a clear indication of culpability. And combining sulfuric acid with other chemicals, does not make it less carcinogenic or annul its carcinogenic capacity, on the contrary, it would augment its carcinogenic capacity. There is no magical solution to remove the action of carcinogens through chemicals, as there is no magic solution for the membranes used in the latest reverse osmosis technology to filter radioactives, dangerous chemicals, and the excessive PCB concentrations throughout the Hudson reported by the DEC on January 16 ! Regarding The Journal News, it still is the most important newspaper in the Hudson Valley. And because of their recent issue with something that revealed too much, they are at the moment extra careful to vet everything they receive. My opinion piece was thus checked very exhaustively before publishing !
Liliana Connor April 20, 2013 at 06:42 PM
Watchdog: Your reply to me is a bit ludicrous ! You said that it is a "crazy statement" to say that people chose to live here for the environment, and then among the reasons you list for your family to move here you mention first: "I moved here [for] the ability of my kids to play in their own backyard with green grass" !!!!! What makes you think, Watchdog, that a backyard with green grass is not part of the environment, that it is not an integral part of what the environment provides to you in Rockland County ??? And a ruling where people sued UW for being in a flood zone has nothing to do with the clear indication that there are areas with excessive water in Rockland, and thus, if UW worked better at water management by extracting water from the underground in a number of key areas, you will not only be obtaining a source of water that is being wasted, but also assisting residents in giving them some respite from these repeated flood situations after a heavy rainfall !!!
Liliana Connor April 20, 2013 at 07:02 PM
I totally agree with every single point in Rita J's opinion !!! This project is abusive to the people of Rockland ! Rockland should not be exploited as a guinea pig by United Water as its first site in the US for a very unnecessary desalination plant !!! Rockland is not a desert and it clearly holds a number of flood plains, which indicate that proper water management is not undertaken. And essential elements such as climate change and population shifts are not being factored in ! It is quite likely in this region that we will get other storms like Tropical Storm Floyd with its widespread floods !!! And for United Water to outright reject the Town of Ramapo's proposal is unconscionable ! Also, it is very clear that Water in Rockland County is readily available, both above and below ground, but instead of using this precious resource, United Water prefers to sell it to land developers, and this is highly unethical !!!!! As I said above, if the PSC knew that despite the ready availability of these other sources, UW insists on building a desal plant, the PSC would object to this manipulative type of move and direct the water company to operate as it should and obtain the water from the readily available sources in Rockland County !!!
CR April 20, 2013 at 07:28 PM
Liliana - you can say what you want, but you are 100% incorrect that United Water "caused" the issue in Toms River. If a chemical company in New York dumped thousands of barrels of toxic waste byproducts next to one of United Water's wells and eventually contaminated the well, by your logic it would have been United Water that caused the situation, not the chemical company. I can't comprehend how someone with even half a brain could come to that conclusion. I'll say it again, using sulfuric acid is widely used in water treatment. Regulators would not allow it if your claims were true. Many companies also uses chlorine. You wouldn't drink concentrated chlorine, but when it's diluted it effectively kills bacteria in the water system. Your statements reveal that you are clueless on this topic. United Water's pilot plant produced finished water that meets or exceeds all state and federal regulations. That is a FACT. Your ramblings are not supported by facts. I'll stick by my comment that the Journal News is a total rag. Most important newspaper in the Hudson Valley - you've got to be joking. You state that your opinion piece was checked exhaustively, therefore it is factual. Again your logic is completely twisted. It's an OPINION piece, not a FACT piece. You are trying to scare the public with rhetoric and false claims. Thank God the ultimate decision will be made by real experts and not frauds like you.
Paul Williams April 20, 2013 at 11:16 PM
Perhaps Preserve Ramapo and its members would be interested in buying UWNY? They then can search out all puddles after a rainstorm, set up pumping stations and sell it to Rocklanders after treating it without any chemicals. God help your kidneys.
Liliana Connor April 21, 2013 at 08:34 AM
CR: I believe that the fraud here is you ! And a male chauvinist to boot ! No matter how you want to twist this story -- or how desperate you seem in your attempts to protect those named in the settlement, as stated by the public record -- United Water had to pay a multi-million dollar settlement to those 69 families !!! And UW didn't do that to be generous and kind to the other two chemical companies that were also involved, just out of the kindness of their heart ! Apparently you are not able to figure that out !!! And knowing that United Water is handling a carcinogen like sulfuric acid, does not leave me -- or anybody else -- at ease !! Especially knowing that 69 families acquired cancer in New Jersey and United Water had to pay a settlement to them !! And if you are not informed that The Journal News is the most important newspaper in the Hudson Valley, I would suggest that you actually research this. With regard to my opinion piece, I had to back up every part of it with actual documents, that I quoted throughout, and the links to every document were provided to the newspaper, which examined carefully all their contents before deciding if they would accept to publish it. So for your information, the whole piece is based on fact and fully documented !!! But I see by the way you express yourself, and your typos, that you are totally lacking. So I would not expect you to know that The Journal News still is the most important newspaper in the Hudson Valley !
Mary April 21, 2013 at 11:25 AM
Ed Day is the only candidate who will get involved and hopefully stop any town's or village's expansion plans that are detrimental to the rest of the county. I agree with your assessment completely, Don.
CR April 21, 2013 at 11:52 AM
Typos? You're calling me out for typos when you use multiple exclamation points after each sentence? I see I'm never going to get through to you using logic and facts. Good luck with the pulitzer prize. Your stunning piece in the Hudson Valley's most important newspaper was hard-hitting journalism at its best. I still get a kick that you actually bragged about having an opinion piece in the Journal News. Big Time!!!
Robert Guttman April 21, 2013 at 12:08 PM
The desalinization plant would be a disaster to the people of Rockland. Piermont Pier is posted with signs warning fishermen not to eat fish caught in the river more than once a week because they're contaminated. If that's the case with the fish then, logically, how clean can the river water be to drink? Not only is there a nuclear power plant right across the river from where United Water intends to build it, but there are PCBs in the water, coming down the river from Troy. The Desal plant that UW is planning to build is not going to be a proper distillation plant, as is used when making water on shipboard, but merely a system of water filters. There is no way that can render the water clean enough for people to drink.
CR April 21, 2013 at 01:45 PM
Robert, do you believe the DEC would allow residents to drink water that doesn't meet or surpass state and federal water quality regulations?
Dennis April 21, 2013 at 01:53 PM
Yes, I agree with George P, if you want to be taken seriously, please state your full name. Dennis W. Hardy-Former Mayor-Village of Piermont
CR April 21, 2013 at 02:15 PM
The comments should be judged based on their merit alone, not given more weight if a name is attached to them. Liliana Connor provides her name and you can't take anything she says seriously. What if I told you my name is John Smith? Do my comments make more sense now?
Practical citizen April 21, 2013 at 05:02 PM
1. DEC and EPA water quality standards change over time, as the science develops. There is a risk that when more research is done, the official standard for tritium will be lowered and we will find ourselves having consumed dangerous amounts of tritium. Better to meet our water needs through conservation, stormwater recapture, better control over Lake Deforest releases, buying the Hillburn water, fixing water main leaks and using flow meters to detect water theft. Not a single silver bullet approach but feasible nevertheless. Let's manage the water we have.
Charles Clewsow April 21, 2013 at 06:36 PM
I must insert myself here. it is quite one thing to have a viewpoint based upon proven, substantiated events and another to draw erroneous conclusions based on sign on a pier and a small subset of facts. The prior post by Mr. Guttman would seem to suggest that it is OK to poison yourself if you only do it once a week? More likely the Hudson River water is not as unsafe as he would have you believe. He goes on to suggest that a $30-$35 Million investment in a filtering plant by a DEC, PSC and Health Department approved water company is less efficient than a filter on a boat which primarily utilize reverse osmosis, the process denegrated by the same group of anti-desal people. These comments by Mr. Guttman lack any substance, drawing erroneous conclusions, however well intended. Apologies,, however Mr. Gottman is not the expert I would rely upon for safe water. United Water has already built a DSC approved pilot plant that starts with standard treatment and filtering technologies found in water plants all over the world. This facility has used reverse osmosis to purify 40 million gallons of water. Independent certified labs have analyzed 10,000 water reviewed by the Dept. of Health and results are excellent. I rely on these Agencies, not blog information.
Practical citizen April 21, 2013 at 07:25 PM
Thanks to Issy for posting the link to the briefing paper from New Paltz CRREO. Very thorough review of the water situation in Rockland/Bergen, and of Suez/United Water NY's proposed solution as presented in their DEIS. On page 17, the CRREO report says, "Overall, however, the DEIS's presentation and cost analysis of all the alternatives lacks transparency and documentation of assumptions, so it is not possible to make fully informed judgments about UWNYs conclusions with the available information." I call on the DEC and our elected officials to require UWNY to fully document its analysis and calculations, and then to invite an outside auditor to vet the numbers, so that the DEC, PSC and town planning boards have the information they need to make their decisions.
Issy April 21, 2013 at 07:53 PM
Thanks, what is needed is level heads. I have been researching this issue for three years and have still not reached a strong opinion. But I have to say that the information put out by the Rockland Water Coalition is mostly disinformation which is meant to scare the public. That being said I do believe that the DEC is conducting a fair and valued judgement, but ultimately will decide to go ahead with the Desalination plant..
Liliana Connor April 21, 2013 at 09:21 PM
Charles Clewsow: I recommend you read the scientific paper on Reverse Osmosis written by the Cooperative Extension of the University of Nevada. United Water has claimed that it will use the latest R/O technology. The scientific paper states that today, R/O can only filter PCBs in the "commonly found concentrations" -- not in the excessive concentrations reported by the DEC in its January 16 report. And it also shows a very long list of chemicals and radioactives -- including tritium -- that R/O cannot currently filter. I told this to Mr. Pointing, General Manager of UW, after a recent hearing. He said that he is "confident that the technology will become available sometime in the future." That would be like saying that "cancer will be cured in the future" and we don't know if this will happen in 10, 20, 30 or 100 years. On April 5th, a chemical engineer was invited to WCRC Radio, who said that R/O "could not handle such large concentrations of PCBs, and most would pass through the membrane" and when questioned about tritium, he said "tritium can only be filtered if it is attached to another element, otherwise it would pass through the membrane." So we have enough evidence that current R/O cannot do the job.
Liliana Connor April 21, 2013 at 09:50 PM
With regard to CR's unprofessional insults, let me tell you that I have worked in public information -- my field -- for 25 years, so I am actually a professional in this field. And my husband was a Bureau Chief of United Press International and knew well of the importance of The Journal News, our main regional paper, whom he worked with, as well as The New York Times. We both worked together in this field and know this. I have used a number of exclamation marks, CR, because your baseless ignorance exasperates me. And it is obvious that you are a totally unprofessional person, who only knows how to insult people, without contributing any worthy substance to a discussion. You have refused to give your real name to a number of people to show your real identity, and I am very suspicious of your repeated attempts to defend a company, and a project, that is clearly so wrong for Rockland County in each one of its aspects. Given the fact that UW has paid workers to issue statements at the Haverstraw hearings, and given the fact that these workers were given written statements with pointers by this company, as soon as they came in the door and in front of my very eyes, on several occasions -- I can tell you that this manoeuvre that you and some others are involved in is not working at all.
Liliana Connor April 21, 2013 at 10:14 PM
Robert Guttman in absolutely right in stating that there is no way that Reverse Osmosis -- a system of water filters that United Water intends to use -- can render the water clean enough for people to drink. Charles Clewsow, I have replied to your comment below. We have obtained independent scientific studies that show that today's R/O technology is still inefficient for removing major carcinogens. And an independent chemical engineer, invited to WCRC, confirmed this. He ended his participation in the radio program stating that "the concerns raised by the public regarding PCBs, tritium and other carcinogens are legitimate, and they should be completely addressed [to the public's satisfaction] before this project can move forward." Kindly read my next comment that has further information on this topic.
Charles Clewsow April 21, 2013 at 11:31 PM
United Water has already built a DSC approved pilot plant that starts with standard treatment and filtering technologies found in water plants all over the world. This facility has used reverse osmosis to purify 40 million gallons of water. Independent certified labs have analyzed 10,000 water reviewed by the Dept. of Health and results are excellent. I rely on these Agencies, not blog information."
Charles Clewsow April 21, 2013 at 11:31 PM
United Water has already built a DSC approved pilot plant that starts with standard treatment and filtering technologies found in water plants all over the world. This facility has used reverse osmosis to purify 40 million gallons of water. Independent certified labs have analyzed 10,000 water reviewed by the Dept. of Health and results are excellent. I rely on these Agencies, not blog information."
Liliana Connor April 22, 2013 at 03:59 PM
Charles Clewsow: I do not know what "blog information" you are referring to. The scientific data about the ineffectiveness of the most current Reverse Osmosis technology that is available today has been obtained from: 1) Scientific papers published by major US universities, as a result of thousands of tests that these universities have independently performed which are irrefutable; and 2) The statements made by a qualified chemical engineer, invited to a Rockland radio program that is fully sponsored by United Water, which confirmed the results of the studies performed by major universities, and which have been officially published ! I do not know which "blog information" you are referring to. Nobody has ever used any "blog information" !! And if you are trying to refer to other United Water plants in other countries, the one that was built in Australia has major problems that cannot be corrected ! The Rockland Water Coalition has published the documents relating to the major problems occurring at the desalination plant in Australia. One of the RWC members made a public presentation about the failure of the desalination plant in Australia, and she also made a statement about it at the public hearings in Haverstraw.


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