Putnam Legislature Asks for Veto

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Opposes state oversight over some streams 

The Putnam County Legislature voted 6-1 on Tuesday (Sept. 6) to ask Gov. Kathy Hochul to veto legislation that would extend state oversight to waterway projects on “Class C” streams.

Nancy Montgomery, whose district covers Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley, was the “no” vote. The sole Democrat on the otherwise all-Republican panel, she called the bill “reasonable” and “necessary,” and said claims about the burden on the Department of Environmental Conservation were “speculation.” 

“I know this might add a layer of bureaucracy, a layer of protections,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

The bill, introduced in the state Senate by Pete Harckham, a Democrat whose district includes parts of eastern Dutchess and Putnam counties, would add Class C waterways to those requiring DEC permits for projects that disturb stream banks and beds. As of Thursday (Sept. 7), it had yet to be delivered to Hochul.

Permits for C streams are currently only required when they are used by trout to travel or spawn. The legislation would apply the same level of oversight as Class A streams, used for drinking water, and Class B, which are suitable for swimming and fishing. 

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a version of the legislation in November 2020, saying it would have a “tremendous fiscal impact” on the state and local government. The DEC, backing Cuomo’s veto, predicted it would need to hire at least 14 full-time staff to meet a doubling of both the miles of streams it would regulate (to 78,000) and number of permit applications it would process (to 3,600). 

Groups such as the New York State Association of Counties and the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association have predicted that the added workload on the agency would increase the wait times for permits, delaying conservation projects and bridge and culvert replacements. 

The County Highway Superintendents Association also argues that costs will increase to replace locally owned bridges and culverts for streams that “in many instances are inconsequential, having little to any impact on the environment.” 

Putnam’s resolution, which declares that local soil and water conservation districts already adequately protect local streams, echoes those arguments, with Legislator Amy Sayegh asserting that the legislation would “set conservation efforts back 50 years” by delaying permit approvals. 

Dozens of local residents, and groups like Sustainable Putnam, sent letters urging the Legislature to reject the resolution. Harckham’s bill has the support of environmental groups like Riverkeeper and the seven Hudson Valley municipalities that draw drinking water from the Hudson River, into which many local streams drain. 

Although Putnam’s resolution expresses confidence in the ability of Soil and Water Conservation Districts to protect streams, even Sayegh acknowledged on Tuesday that Putnam County’s SWCD is in “disarray” and has been understaffed for a decade. 

“Something with Soil and Water Conservation needs to happen, and it needs to happen now — yesterday,” said Sayegh who, along with Legislator Carl Albano, is a liaison to the district. 

Formed in 1967, it is one of 58 Soil and Water Conservation Districts statewide that work with municipalities, property owners and residents on programs that range from distributing rain barrels and planting trees to monitoring water and restoring stream banks. 

Vinny Tamagna, a Philipstown resident and former legislator who is the county’s transportation manager and Climate Smart coordinator, is serving as the agency’s interim manager. 

The Legislature on Tuesday voted 6-1 to appoint three members (Chris Ruthven, the county director of parks, and farmers Brian Bergen and Ervin Raboy), although Montgomery and Legislator Paul Jonke complained that the SWCD failed to provide material on their qualifications. Montgomery cast the “no” vote.

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