Somers residents will soon have the opportunity to vote on whether a new sewer district will be created in the Shenorock and Lake Lincolndale communities after officials opted to move the controversial project forward.
Following several divisive meetings and a nearly three-hour public hearing Thursday night, the Somers Town Board unanimously voted on a series of resolutions that will put the $62.2 million sewer project, that will include 989 parcels in the two communities, up for a mandatory referendum vote on Nov. 10.
“To all those opposed and for all those for this, everyone is going to get the chance to exercise their right to vote on this project,” Supervisor Rick Morrissey said. “No matter what the outcome, Nov. 10 we will hold a vote via voting machines from the Board of Elections and absentee ballots will be collected as well.”
The decision comes after town officials expressed concern about deteriorating septic systems as the current year-round volume of sewage threatens the lakes, which flow into the Amawalk Reservoir. If approved, the sewer line would divert 326,000 gallons of sanitary wastewater to the county sewer plant in Peekskill instead of the New York City watershed.
However, while officials press this is the best decision for the community, there has been much skepticism about the project from residents that has resulted in several contentious and lengthy public hearings. Thursday’s hearing was no different with community members questioning the town’s motives for bringing sewers to a longtime rural area.
While many charged council members for wanting to increase development in the area, see taxes rise or financially benefit from the project, others expressed concern about the ecological effects the proposed sewer system could have on the surrounding lake.
“If this sewer system comes into our neighborhood (the) ecological balance of the lake will be forever changed from years of destruction, disruption, noise pollution and construction runoff,” said Janet Best, a 30-year Lake Lincolndale resident. “I don’t understand why we’re being forced into this corner without considering the alternative, less invasive and efficient way to upgrade these septic systems.”
Opponents of the project have previously chastised the board for failing to adequately explore other possibilities, including Integrated Advance (IA) System septics, which would be far less expensive than sewers. But Joe Barbagallo, the consulting engineer on the project for the town, has noted the IA system is not permitted in Westchester unless a specific system fails.
If approved, $10 million from East of Hudson Water Quality, a county fund used to support water protection projects, and a $1.3 million grant from the Army Corps of Engineers would fund the project. In addition, 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 increase to up to $1,187 per parcel.
For those who do not connect, the annual assessment would be $711 a year.
Following the vote, Councilman Thomas Garrity said he was disheartened by the lack of respect during recent meetings with residents claiming the town has ulterior motives. While disagreements are part of any process, he said accusations have been made without any credible basis.
Despite the unpleasantness that the sewer project has created, whatever residents decide on Nov. 10 will stand.
“We’ve been doing things that we do believe are good for the town. We’re not doing it to help big builders, we’re not doing it to raise taxes; we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do,” Garrity said. “You might disagree with us, and that’s fine, it’s good to have civil discourse, but it’s not right to accuse people.”