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 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.