Shenorock and Lake Lincolndale residents held sharply divergent views on Somers officials’ controversial plan to create a sewer district to serve those communities during a contentious and occasionally unruly public hearing last Thursday.
The town is moving through the public hearing process in hopes of scheduling a referendum for the $62.2 million project before the end of the year, said Somers Supervisor Rick Morrissey. The project would include 986 parcels in the two communities, and when completed would divert 326,000 gallons of sanitary wastewater to the county sewer plant in Peekskill.
Town officials have expressed concerns about failing septic systems while hoping to prevent the further endangerment of the lakes, which flow into the Amawalk Reservoir, part of the New York City watershed. Many of the homes had originally been summer residences decades ago and the current year-round volume of sewage threatens the watershed, Morrissey said.
“So, the time is now,” said Joe Barbagallo, the town’s consulting engineer on the project. “If the community does not support his project, you will lose the $10 million in funding from the county, you will lose the $1.3 million with the Army Corps of Engineers and you will see the degradation of the lakes and drinking water quality of the communities.”
The $10 million is part of the $50 million in East of Hudson funds paid to Westchester by New York City in 1997 for water protection projects. In addition to a $1.3 million grant from the Army Corps of Engineers, the town would borrow up to $16.2 million and seek a variety of state and federal grants and other money to complete the funding.
Work would be done in two phases. The first phase would place 103 parcel owners into the district at an initial annual cost of $591 a year. Once the second phase is completed, which would bring the remainder of the parcels into the district, the yearly expense would cost up to $1,187 per parcel. For those who do not connect, the annual assessment would be $711 a year.
Continuation of the hearing at Reis Park came about five months after it was last discussed but did not quell the emotions for some in attendance. Residents in opposition expressed distrust of the Town Board and questioned its members’ motivation for trying to bring sewers to a longtime rural area.
There was periodic interruption by those in the crowd that was limited to 50 people because of the COVID-19 restrictions, although other residents listened from outside the fence.
“It will break my heart to see the dissolution and change of character of this most beautiful, unique and special place because there’s nothing you’re going to say to me and many others that I will talk to that will make me not believe that your agenda is for development,” said Aspen Road resident Judy Rath.
Lake Lincolndale resident Marian Murtha said she was also suspicious of the board’s ulterior motives and had no confidence that the estimated annual costs is all that the project would cost property owners.
“We did not sign up for this,” Murtha said. “You’re stuffing this down our throat and I’m sorry, there’s just no nice way to say this, but this looks a whole lot like you are building the infrastructure for the homebuilders and you want Lake Lincolndale and Shenorock to pay for it. Shame on you.”
Other opponents derided the board for failing to adequately explore other possibilities, including Integrated Advance System septics, which would be far less expensive than sewers. Magnolia Drive resident Lisa Healy refused to address Morrissey by his name or title, continually referring to him as “Tricky Ricky.”
“You have refused to look at any other options other than this huge, huge financial burden to these neighborhoods,” Healy said.
Barbagallo told the residents that the IA system is not permitted in Westchester unless a septic system fails.
But proponents of sewers were also well represented. Lake Lincolndale resident Stephanie McQuaid Geiger, who identified herself as a science teacher, said it’s clear that sewer infrastructure the environmentally responsible option.
“Our septic systems are too densely populated for where we live,” Geiger said. “We need to do this. I’m tired of having the conversation about if we should do this.”
Michael O’Keefe, president of the Lake Lincolndale Properties Association, said the organization supports the plan because sewers are essential to protect the lake.
Shenorock resident Ed Barron said he intends to vote for the referendum.
“I don’t want to wake up one morning and have my neighborhood smell like a sewer,” Barron said. “So, I think we need to get this done.”
The public hearing will resume on September 10 at a still undetermined time and location. Morrissey said that the referendum would be held 60 to 75 days after the board closes the hearing.