The Rockland County Legislature’s Environmental Committee unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday night requesting the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation require an issues conference and adjudicatory hearing on the proposed Haverstraw desalination plant.
This was the second resolution the committee passed related to the county's water supply. Spokeswoman Deb Rizzi issued a statement from United Water urging legislators to allow the project to move forward.
United Water urges the Legislature to reject resolutions which oppose the Haverstraw Water Supply Project and place Rockland’s future in jeopardy. Further delay will not put us any closer to a water supply solution that Rockland urgently needs.
The company encourages the Legislature to rely upon the process implemented by the State of New York to ensure that Rocklanders receive a safe, reliable and cost-effective water supply.
The need for a long term water supply project has been clearly established by Rockland County and experts at the Public Service Commission and the Department of Environmental Conservation.
According to the DEC’s website, there are three phases in a permit hearing: a legislative hearing, an issues conference and an adjudicatory hearing. The first two phases are held in all permit hearings, according to the same site.
Committee Chair Alden Wolfe said there has not been an issues conference yet, and the committee is waiting to hear from the DEC about it. Wolfe said Wednesday night the committee feels it's important to pass this particular resolution to let the citizens be heard.
“This is not a resolution that says we love or hate the desal plant, and I know that passions are very strong on this issue,” he said. “This legislature has a history of protecting the due process of rights that are afforded to citizens of our county.”
Back in February of this year, the legislature passed a resolution to allow for extra time in the public comment portion of the hearing, as well as to hold multiple public hearings. Extra time was granted, but no additional public hearings were added. The one that did take place, Wolfe said, was packed and not everyone who wanted could get in, and thus not everyone who wanted could give their reason for or against the plant.
There was talk as to whether or not that hearing counts as the legislative hearing, and Legislator Joseph Meyers said there was an administrative law judge there.
“To me, it couldn’t have been a legislative hearing in actuality because there was no give and take, it was more of a public hearing where a representative from United Water spoke and then the public spoke,” he said. “There was no trying of issues of fact.”
Wolfe said the back and forth would come at an adjudicatory hearing. To get there, though, an issues conference must first be held. The issues conference, according to the DEC site, is used to:
- hear arguments on whether party status should be granted
- narrow or resolve disputed issues of fact
- hear argument about whether disputed issues of fact should be adjudicated at a hearing
- determine whether legal issues exist that are not fact dependent
- decide any pending motions.
An issues is adjudicable, according to the DEC, if:
- it relates to a dispute between the applicant and DEC staff regarding a substantial term or condition of the draft permit.
- it relates to grounds cited by DEC staff as a basis to deny the permit.
- it raises sufficient doubt about whether the applicant can meet all permitting criteria.
- it has the potential to result in a permit denial, major modification of the project, or significant conditions beyond those in the draft permit.
Adjuratory hearings similar to civil court proceedings in that they “give the public an opportunity to appear as parties, to present evidence and to argue contested issues before an impartial administrative law judge,” according to the DEC. The judge can be presented with evidence in the form of testimony, photographs, documents and more.
United Water's statement went on to say:
For example, Dr. Daniel Miller, Head of the Water Supply Bureau of the Rockland County Department of Health, testified in the 2006 rate proceeding:
"The time for study is over. Rockland County needs additional supply. Reconsideration of the proposed alternatives based on current technological advances, permitting issues and costs should be limited to an exceedingly short time period, and construction of the selected major supply project should commence post haste."
In 2006 and again in 2010, the County of Rockland felt that the need for more water was so urgent, that it insisted upon penalties if United Water did not have the new supply online by the end of 2015. Since Dr. Miller testified in both 2006 and 2010, the facts are the same—and so is the urgency.
As legislators focus on the economic recovery of the County, they should take a moment to consider how critical a reliable water supply is for the continued public health, safety, and economic vitality of Rockland.