By PHIL NOBILE
Along with nearly $8 million proposed by the Department of Public Works to spend this year on various capital projects, town money may also be spent to correct a violation from New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Included in the public works department’s request of $7.8 million for capital budget funding, $250,000 was requested by the department to appease an October 2013 violation issued by the Department of Environmental Protection by using the money to update the facility to meet set standards. However, there is no guarantee that what the town is proposing will satisfy the city department, according to Anthony Robinson, the Department of Public Works commissioner.
The violation declared an organic waste station operated in West Harrison near the Westchester County Airport was too close to the Kensico Reservoir and, as a result, measures must be taken by the town to ensure runoff from the station is captured and filtered as well as to alleviate other numerous environmental concerns. If the town doesn’t remedy the situation, the DEP could decide to close the facility permanently.
“If this is the way to get [the Department of Environmental Protection] to see things our way a bit, then money well spent as far as I’m concerned,” Robinson said. “This is the way to keep the organic waste station in operation. If they see our capital budget includes this money, that’s just going to be another feather in our cap when it comes to how responsive we are being.”
The organic yard waste facility near the reservoir is used by the town to store leaves, grass clippings, logs and other organic waste. According to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, the waste station is too close to the reservoir. The current station resides within 700 feet of the Kensico Reservior, which is less than the required 1,000 feet of distance set by New York State health law.
“The rule is in place to prevent runoff from waste facilities like Harrison’s, which can sometimes promote the transfer of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other chemicals that we take great strides to keep away from the water supply reservoirs,” Adam Bosch, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said.
According to Bosch, the watershed regulation that the town has been found in violation of has been in place since 1997. The facility has been in operation since 2004 according to Town Attorney Frank Allegretti, who said the facility was opened in conjunction with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation who issued the initial permit for the facility to operate.
Despite the state’s involvement, the town is now left footing the bill in hopes to appeal to the New York
“We’re working in a cooperative effort to remediate issues as best we can in the hopes that we might be able to continue the multifaceted operations we have going on there,” Allegretti said, denying that the issues were related to pollution, and that seasonal activities such as storing leave or grass clippings temporarily is the purpose of the facility.
Bosch stressed his department tried to contact Harrison and its town officials before issuing the violation, but never received a response.
“It’s important to note the Department of Environmental Protection attempted to reach out to the town before issuing the violation, as it does with similar situations that arise from time to time in the watersheds,” Bosch said. “In this case, the town was not responsive and the notice was issued.”
When asked why they seemingly ignored the communication about the violation, Allegretti denied the claim completely, saying a dialogue with the Department of Environmental Protection has been constant.
“To say we had no response at all is incorrect,” Allegretti said. “We had numerous conversations between my staff and members of the legal staff of the Department of Environmental Protection. At that point we agreed to disagree over which regulations applied.”
As a result, Robinson and the Department of Public Works want to use the quarter of a million dollars to re-grade the area, re-pave portions of the pavement and modify existing drainage structures to control storm water flow better than before. Robinson and the town hopes to get a variance to continue operating the facility in the same location particularly since there is little in the way of alternate options for Harrison to construct a similar facility.
“You have two alternatives: find another sight, which is highly unlikely, or you eliminate the program,” Robinson said. “If we don’t pick up the leaves anymore, it’s a net savings for us but a reduction of services that I don’t believe the residents would be very happy with.”
Robinson, who described the Department of Environmental Protection as initially “militant,” expressed doubts about getting the variance from the agency, adding he was unsure if DEP’s concerns could be addressed with the $250,000 the town is looking to spend to try and comply with the city department’s request.
“They’re saying they will consider the variance if we do the storm water controls, and they would even consider the grass clipping portion of it,” he said. “Having said that, I don’t know if we can address their concerns.”
The Town Council described the alternative of finding a different sight for organic waste as “impossible,” and said removing the program completely or going to private services instead would raise the cost “dramatically,” according to Councilman Stephen Malfitano, a Republican.
Whether the Town Council will approve the funding to comply with the Department of Environmental Protection or not remains to be seen.
Calls to Robinson were not returned as of press time.