A proposed intermunicipal agreement (IMA) to provide Ossining with New Castle water is in limbo after suspicions were raised the move would bring a pediatric nursing home the water it needs for a controversial expansion project.
New Castle officials heard a presentation from DPW Commissioner Gerry Moerschell at the town board’s January 19 work session that the town’s water plant has ample capacity to supply the Village of Ossining with up to 600,000 gallons a day as Ossining upgrades its Indian Brook Water Treatment Facility.
Included in the draft IMA was language that would bring 100,000 gallons of water back from Ossining to New Castle to help establish the Spring Valley Water District. The district would provide municipal water to about 12 residential properties along that street from the New Castle-Ossining line town to Glendale Road.
However, New Castle Councilwoman Hala Makowska said after she closely examined the proposed IMA, the agreement differed from previous water arrangements the town has had with other municipalities. She said she suspected that inclusion of a Spring Valley Water District was to provide a water source to the Sunshine Children’s Home and Rehab Center while being advertised by Supervisor Robert Greenstein as fire protection improvement.
“Although the small number of residents of properties would definitely benefit from enhanced fire protection and modestly lowered homeowner insurance premiums with new hydrants in their neighborhood, the primary purpose of the water district is to accommodate the future water needs of the Sunshine Home, who’s got an application for significant expansion in front of the New Castle Zoning Board,” Makowska said.
The Sunshine Home’s application is to expand from 54 to 122 beds. Many of the facility’s neighbors have opposed the project, arguing that the expansion would be out of character with the neighborhood and would jeopardize the surrounding environment. The ZBA has not discussed the application since November. At the time it was awaiting a hydrology report from the town’s environmental consultant.
Greenstein dismissed all insinuations that the proposal to create a district through the IMA was to bring water needed for a Sunshine Home approval. He maintained that he wants to prevent a repeat of a 1992 fire on the Sunshine Home property that forced firefighters to let a structure burn to the ground and to protect all homeowners in the area.
He said the circumstances amounted to “very unfortunate timing” but that there was no plan to pursue a fire district for Spring Valley Road until Ossining recently approached New Castle about water to supplement the village’s supply.
“I think even if there was no expansion, as members of the town board, something that we have to consider is to provide adequate protection for a hospital with the most vulnerable members of our community,” Greenstein said.
Councilman Jeremy Saland said his suspicions were triggered by the timing of the water district proposal and that there has been no petition submitted by any property owner on Spring Valley Road to create a district, including the Sunshine Home.
“On its face, the potential creation of the Spring Valley Water District benefits a single user, the Sunshine Home,” Saland said. “Even if it is gussied up to appear as if it is being sought to benefit the dozen or so private residences along Spring Valley Road, the proposed agreement improperly circumvents the process to create a water district.”
At the board’s January 26 meeting Makowska proposed separating the two parts of the agreement in hopes of providing Ossining with the water that it needs. The village is seeking a backup plan for the peak summer season when water usage spikes.
Greenstein said that no one would be so brazen as to try and push through a plan to supply more water for an expansion in an underhanded manner while there has been such intense debate on the project.
“Let’s face it, it’s a hospital for children who are the sickest of the sick and I realize that this has the potential to enable them to do their expansion,” Greenstein said. “I get that. But even if there was no application pending for this expansion…we as a town board, in my opinion, have the ability to increase their fire protection by giving them adequate water supply, which they don’t have adequate water supply right now, as evidenced in 1992 when they had to let the building burn to the ground.”
Representatives of the Sunshine Home declined to comment on the matter, including whether they approached the town to initiate the request.
But Ossining Mayor Victoria Gearity said on February 5 that village officials were surprised late last month when they received a copy of the draft IMA that included the water district. Gearity said her understanding of the proposed agreement was for the village to buy 500,000 gallons of excess water for the next six years at a fair price in exchange for New Castle receiving state certified lab services at Ossining’s water treatment plant.
“Other items contained in the proposed Inter-Municipal Agreement, and which were declared publicly at the Town of New Castle’s meeting, had not been reviewed or agreed to by the Village of Ossining,” according to a statement sent from the village by Gearity.
Saland mentioned that he has no objection to the Sunshine Home receiving water or increased fire protection if it demonstrates a need. However, the 2015 inspection by Medicare uncovered only two deficiencies, neither of which is related to water access to fight fires, he said.
“It is not our role to give a leg up or any advantage to any developer whether their applications are before us or another body,” Saland said. “To do so would wreak from favoritism and unethical governance.”
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/