Delay vote on attacking federal clean-water rules

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Dispensing with a long agenda in a short time, the Putnam County Legislature Tuesday night (July 1) agreed to lease space in Cold Spring at the American Legion for the senior citizen lunch program for two more years.

The legislature also again debated the merits of bonds versus cash to pay for projects and postponed a vote on a measure attacking a proposed federal anti-water-pollution measure.

American Legion lease

The legislature unanimously approved extension of the county lease on space at the American Legion for two more years for “a nutrition program and providing a senior center.” The current lease expires July 31.

The American Legion building, right (file photo by L.S. Armstrong)
The American Legion building, right (file photo by L.S. Armstrong)

The vote occurred with no discussion or references to any county interest in moving the senior-citizen activities to a long-suggested (but still nebulous) senior-community center in an intergovernmental headquarters at a redeveloped Butterfield Hospital site.

Bonds versus cash

Using bonds, a form of loan, to fund county projects came up in regard to further improvements to the Putnam bike trail, in the county’s eastern end. Putnam County intends to spend an estimated $4,118,589 on upgrades, using an anticipated $3,706,730 in state and federal grants and $411,870 in 20-year serial bonds, with the principal (the $411,870) and related interest charges paid by property taxes.

“I’m concerned about the bonding,” said Legislator Sam Oliverio, the legislature’s lone Democrat who represents Putnam Valley and is running for county executive. “I love the bike project,” he explained, “but I want to ask that we consider paying cash. We have the cash.” Adding bikeway bonding to the county’s existing burden brings the total county bonding obligation to nearly $14 million, Oliverio observed. “We’re buying on credit. We’re putting ourselves 20 years in debt … over something we can pay cash for.”

Legislator Dini LoBue concurred. “We’re bonding ourselves into oblivion,” she said, also wondering about bikeway maintenance: “We keep extending it but are not quite sure how we’re going to pay for it.”

Various legislators mentioned a forthcoming report on bond obligations, a tool welcomed by Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown. “I think that’s a very good point: have a really broad look at what we’re bonding and what’s coming off” the bond rolls, she said. She also alluded to last summer’s fracas over advertising on trail information signs. “Small advertisements on the bike path would bring in revenue to help offset this,” she said.

Two legislators cited looming but unspecified expenses as a factor in the decision.

“We have pending litigation like a hurricane out there,” said Legislator Roger Gross. I think we have to think about cash and bonding down the line, because it’s a heavy hit” awaiting.

“We have a lot of surprises coming up, so I’d like to hang onto the cash,” Chairman Carl Albano commented. To date, in terms of bonding “we’re in good shape,” he said.

The legislature ultimately approved the bikeway bonding by a vote of 6 “yeas,” including Scuccimarra’s; 2 “nays,” from LoBue and Oliverio; and an abstention from Legislator Kevin Wright.

Clean Water Act regulation

Voting 6-3, the legislators postponed action on a resolution attacking a proposed new regulation under the federal Clean Water Act. The resolution asserts that the federal law was never expected to protect ditches, human-made ponds, and similar bodies of water and the proposed expansion would create problems in that regard.

According to the draft resolution now subject to further scrutiny, the enhanced regulation, from the Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency, would affect or “capture a significant number of Putnam County Highway [Department] activities and transportation infrastructure,” adding “costly and time-consuming permitting and regulatory protocols”; apply to projects “which do not currently require such oversight, at great expense so the taxpayers of Putnam County, with little — if any — substantive environmental benefit,” and bring “significant ongoing maintenance costs and delays to county citizens.”

The resolution argues that the planned federal requirements should not come from the Army Corps or EPA but be imposed “only through the U.S. Congress and limited by the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Oliverio recommended they delay consideration of the resolution to allow the county health department to study the issue and render an opinion.

“I don’t think it is as onerous as this makes it out to be,” Oliverio stated. “Some of the things they’re proposing — the Army Corps and EPA — is going to help us keep in balance development and the environment. I think it’s pretty important.”

“I agree,” LoBue announced. “This concerns the Clean Water Act. I don’t think it’ll hurt” to wait before voting. “In the past,” she observed, “this legislative body has gotten into trouble” by precipitously adopting resolutions on contentious subjects and creating a public ruckus, as with its call for repeal of the New York Safe Act gun control law.

Albano, who subsequently voted “no” on the postponement, objected that planning and building departments and those involved in the profession find such regulation excessive. “It’s just two steps up to like basically stopping everything,” he said.

Scuccimarra sympathized, but voted for the delay. “I do think we’re totally over-regulated as far as our water goes, especially on this side of the county,” she said.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government

3 replies on “County Legislators Renew American Legion Lease”

  1. Many thanks to Liz for another great article about our illustrious leaders over in Carmel. If it wasn’t for her, there would be no way for the taxpayers/citizens to find out what our elected officials were up to.

    Case in point: the vote by three legislators, including two of our own, Oliverio and Scuccimarra, to delay a vote on a home-rule resolution that would try to put the brakes on onerous, overreaching federal regulations that will cause untold hardship for Putnam County.

    When it comes to clean water and clean air, we are one of the most over-regulated places on the planet. We have state laws that are enforced through the DEC, federal laws that currently go through the Army Corps of Engineers, county laws, town laws and even village laws. In Putnam Valley it has become just about impossible to build anything, even a single-family home, and you have to look no further than the Butterfield project to see the hoops that had to be jumped through before it got the go ahead.

    Because most of Putnam County does not have municipal water and sewers, and residents have their own wells and septic systems, we have had to be extraordinarily careful to protect our water supply. On the Eastern side of the county, New York City has purchased thousands of acres of land to protect its water system, land that will be forever vacant and undeveloped. All in all we have done an excellent job on the local level.

    The last thing we need is another bunch of bureaucrats who know nothing about our communities to come in and try to reinvent the wheel.

  2. I wrote to Legislator Scuccimarra last week to voice my opposition to the Legislature’s proposed “memorialization” of its objections to the new EPA/Army Corps of Engineer guidelines for the Clean Water Act. A press release by the EPA explains:

    “The proposed rule clarifies protection for streams and wetlands. The proposed definitions of waters will apply to all Clean Water Act programs. It does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act and is consistent with the Supreme Court’s more narrow reading of Clean Water Act jurisdiction.”

    I received a response from Beth Green on behalf of Ms. Scuccimarra, who wrote: “She (Scuccimarra) stated that through further research and speaking with the Putnam County Commissioner of Health, Dr. Beals, the Legislature has concluded that no action will be taken with regards to this memorialization.”

  3. The Physical Service Committee meeting set for this Wednesday (August 20) indicates on its agenda item number 16: Discussion/Approval/Memorialization/Opposing Clean Water Act Regulation Proposed by Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers (tabled at 7/1/2014 Full Mtg).

    In this context Ms. Scuccimarra’s original message to me via Administrative Assistant Beth Green (quoted in my comment above) is not clear, and I wonder if the County Legislature intends to try to go forward with this memorialization after all.

    The minutes from the July Physical Services Committee include a comment by Deputy Commissioner of Highways and Facilities John Tully, who expresses his opinion that any time there are additional regulations it takes more time to ensure compliance, hence the additional cost. This would appear to be a faulty reading of the new guidelines as they are intended to clarify — indeed, to increase efficiency — not to increase the cost of complying with the Clean Water Act. No specific or evidence-based objection to the guidelines has been expressed by anyone — not by John Tully, not Legislator Albano, not by Soil and Water, not even by Ms. Scuccimarra. However, specific objections to the proposed memorialization were offered by the Commissioner of Health Allen Beals, who advised the Committee to abandon the idea of memorializing any objections to the new guidelines.

    The memorialization of objections would provide no relief from the regulation, and the guidelines do not propose to expand coverage to new types of waters. We should ask ourselves why this memorialization of objections to new guidelines is so important to this Legislature, given the history and the obvious benefits the Clean Water Act has made in the Hudson Valley, and specifically, our beautiful Hudson River.

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