Putnam Revives Measure Opposing Stream Protection

canopus creek

Canopus Creek, a Class B stream, is protected under state law against development. (Hudson Highlands Land Trust)

Committee refuses to act on Montgomery alternative

Three weeks after Putnam lawmakers shelved a draft resolution advocating the governor veto a bill extending environmental protection to small creeks, a legislative committee on Aug. 25 revived the plea, despite public opposition, and sent it to the full Legislature for action.

The Legislature next meets Tuesday (Sept. 6).

The three-man Physical Services Committee unanimously endorsed the resolution after refusing to act on an alternative proposed by Legislator Nancy Montgomery that supports the state legislation. Montgomery, whose district covers Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley, is the sole Democrat on the otherwise all-Republican, nine-person Legislature.

Before adopting the resolution, the committee spent about 75 minutes largely listening to constituents, who overwhelmingly objected to a veto. The legislators also received at least 75 letters from residents, including 11 from Philipstown, that offered support for the state legislation. Two town officials — Richard Othmer, the Kent highway supervisor, and Jacqueline Annabi, the Putnam Valley supervisor — wrote to say they didn’t feel state regulation was needed.

Sponsored by state Sen. Peter Harckham, a Democrat whose district includes eastern Putnam, the state legislation would require that projects affecting smaller streams (“Class C,” which are suitable for fishing but not to provide drinking water) obtain permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Permits are required for Class A streams, which provide drinking water, and Class B, which the DEC says are suitable for swimming and fishing.

As of Sept. 1, the Legislature had not sent the bill to Gov. Kathy Hochul for consideration. It passed the Senate, 47-14, in May, with support from Sue Serino, a Republican whose district includes the Highlands, and the House, 114-33, in March, with “yes” votes from Assembly Members Sandy Galef, whose district includes Philipstown, and Jonathan Jacobson, whose district includes Beacon.

Putnam’s proposed resolution urging a veto declares that local soil and water conservation districts can protect waterways and that while “well-intentioned,” the state legislation would “create the need for more than 40 times the applications to go to DEC.”

It also asserts that obtaining permits already takes four to eight months and that “based upon the current backlog and timeframe for permitting,” the state legislation “would delay projects for at least 26 months.” In addition, the resolution argues that the state legislation would “adversely affect public and private infrastructure through flooding impacts.”

The New York State Association of Counties and groups representing county and town highway superintendents, the forest products industry and electrical power companies also have objected to the state legislation.

Environmental organizations, including the Adirondack Mountain Club, Riverkeeper and The Nature Conservancy, asked Putnam to drop its opposition, with the latter noting that “nearly half of New York’s 90,846 miles of streams are not subject to stream protection provisions” of state law.

Montgomery’s alternative resolution described the state legislation as being designed to “protect water quality” as well as “protect public and private infrastructure by mitigating flood impacts.”

How Streams Are Classified

A: Drinking
B: Swimming, fishing
C: Fishing
D: Agricultural, industrial

Class A
Dry Brook
Gordons/Melzingah Brook (part)
Squirrel Hollow Brook

Class B
Arden Brook
Breakneck Brook
Canopus Creek
Peekskill Hollow Brook
Philipse Brook
Sprout Brook

Class C
Annsville Creek
Clove Creek
Fishkill Creek
Foundry Brook
Gordons/Melzingah Brook (part)
Indian Brook
Wades/Cascade Brook

Source: DEC (gisservices.dec.ny.gov)

Because Hochul recently lifted a state hiring freeze, the Department of Environmental Conservation “will be fully staffed” and able to handle more permits, her resolution stated. Moreover, it observed, local government highway departments and other entities, farms and emergency repairs of infrastructure near streams already “are exempt from permit requirements.”

Montgomery’s resolution likewise declared that local soil and water conservation districts need DEC aid and clout, and that “in the Hudson River watershed at least 40 percent of stream miles lack protection” in spots where encroachments have harmed water quality.

Through the state legislation, “we’re just trying to safeguard New Yorkers,” Montgomery said during the committee meeting. “We can all agree we need to protect our water.”

But Legislator Joseph Castellano of Brewster countered that stream protection “is a local issue. Adding another layer of bureaucracy can have an adverse effect.”

Legislator Carl Albano of Carmel, who chairs the Physical Services Committee and has been professionally involved in building projects, said that local “environmental boards do a good job. They’re over the top sometimes, but that’s a good thing.” He proposed that the state legislation be amended to address critics’ concerns.

Montgomery, a former Philipstown Town Board member, responded: “I love home rule. But I don’t trust that our water is being protected properly, certainly not Class C streams.” She recalled that although the New York State Association of Counties wrote to Hochul to ask for a veto, “nobody [from NYSAC] commented on it when it was before the Assembly or Senate.”

From the audience, a woman asked: “Where were you all?”

“I didn’t know about it,” Albano replied.

“Water is probably the most important resource we have,” said a Putnam Valley resident. “We need more protections.”

A Carmel woman, claiming that officials in some localities seem unwilling to crack down on environmental scofflaws, concurred that “we need the state oversight, the objectivity of the state, to enforce this.”

Opposing the state initiative “sends a terrible message,” a man added. “It seems like water quality is taking a back seat to politics. I support Legislator Montgomery’s resolution.”

But the committee endorsed the pro-veto version.

4 thoughts on “Putnam Revives Measure Opposing Stream Protection

  1. Clearly, water protection is important to Putnam residents. More than 70 residents wrote their legislators to urge a “no” vote last week on Legislator Amy Sayegh’s veto resolution aimed at Sen. Pete Harckham’s streams protection bill. And 15 to 20 people waited more than two hours at the Aug. 25 Physical Services Committee meeting to urge greater protection of water quality, rather than obstructing it. Despite clear, evidence-backed arguments made by residents regarding the need for this legislation in Putnam, the three members of the committee repeated fears of burdensome regulation and negative impacts on business — without evidence — while also claiming to support clean water.

    Let’s be clear. Clean water is good and good for business. Just ask one of the residents or businesses in the Mahopac business district, Putnam Valley or other towns who depend on bottled water, municipal water or elaborate filter systems be-cause their wells have been contaminated by bad business practices, and sometimes bad Putnam County government practices.

    In fact, a frequent point residents made was that Harckham’s bill is needed precisely because the county has failed to protect our water. They cited examples past and present. One gentleman from Kent described wetlands violations in his neighborhood and his urgent calls to multiple levels of government — including the county Soil and Water Conservation District — that were going unheeded.

    All three Legislators voted in favor of asking Gov. Kathy Hochul to veto the bill. Sustainable Putnam urges legislators to vote “no” at their meeting on Sept. 6 and instead act decisively to protect our water by hiring a qualified, full-time director for the Soil and Water Conservation District and paid staff that can handle this important work.

    Montuori is the president of Sustainable Putnam.

  2. Stop blocking state efforts to improve Putnam lakes and waterways! You can live for months with no food, but you cannot survive a week without water. Water is the key to life. Nowhere is that truer than in Putnam County. Waterways cover a third of our land. Many of our population centers and homes are built around lakes. Without clean water our property values will plummet and so will our tax base.

    Under state law, the county is responsible for keeping our local waterways clean, but it has taken little responsibility to do so. We need look no further than what happened when the county got infrastructure funds from the federal government. Instead of helping our waterways, it gave $400,000 to the golf course and then divided the rest among towns to do as they please.

    Water problems are growing all over our state. But no county has more closings from dangerous toxic algal blooms than ours. Yet there is no plan to clean up our lakes and the streams that feed them.

    It is not surprising that the state government is becoming alarmed with local inaction and passed legislation to regulate and fund action to clean streams feeding lakes. Local politicians, however, have suddenly realized that this help from the state could impinge on their ability to award more development contracts — a key source of power in politics. Continuing their do-nothing attitude, they now want to pass legislation nullifying this state aid to our locality.

    As a resident of one of the many lake-based communities in our county, I am outraged by this attempt at maintaining power at the expense of our community and county. If the county legislators want authority, they have to show they are ready and able to protect our waterways. So far they have shown they simply cannot be trusted with this critical responsibility.

  3. Do we really need to explain why clean water is important and worth the administrative inconvenience?

  4. Most of Putnam County’s legislators have repeatedly shown that they are out of touch with their constituents, as the over-whelming majority of us are asking for the protection of our water supply for drinking and recreation.

    Instead of representing Putnam families, they choose the agenda of donors and/or the developers who want expedited development. Their reasoning is that the protection of Class C streams by the state “would create the need for more than 40 times the applications to go to DEC and delay projects at least 26 months.”

    If the developers that the legislators are catering to are anything like the ones who designed and built the ticky-tacky houses on Camarda Ridge that make the westbound approach to Carmel on Route 6 one of the ugliest views of small-town America I have ever seen, then they should be delayed 26 months or stopped altogether.

    Are the legislators’ families aware that their health and welfare are being subverted to the builders who would destroy the environment?

    The Legislature is wasting time and our taxpayer dollars in consideration of this resolution. It will have no effect except to draw the governor’s attention to the fact that Putnam County has a completely dysfunctional government.