Groups Fight Hasidic Village’s Water Plans | Courthouse News Service
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Groups Fight Hasidic Village’s Water Plans

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - Four land preservation groups sued the rapidly growing Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel to force a new review of where to source needed municipal water.

The groups contend the village changed course on where it would get the additional water without conducting an environmental review and that the state Department of Environmental Conservation went along by granting a water-withdrawal permit.

Kiryas Joel, encompassing just 1.1 square miles about 60 miles northwest of New York City near Harriman, is described by consultants as a "boomtown" where the median age is 12 and the number of residents could double in 10 years to 42,000 and nearly double again by 2040.

Founded in the 1970s, the village has its roots in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn where Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the grand rebbe of the Satmar ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, settled after fleeing German advances on Romania in World War II. He later picked rural Orange County for expansion, where the community was named for him.

To meet continuing growth demands, some of it internal - the village averages two births a day -some of it coming from Williamsburg, Kiryas Joel proposed annexing 500 acres from the neighboring town of Monroe. The town voted to allow the annexation of 164 acres in September.

Even before pursuing annexation the village recognized it faced yield limits at the two wells that currently supply the municipal water system, according to the complaint filed Nov. 27 in Albany County Supreme Court by the land preservation groups.

In 2008, Kiryas Joel announced plans to connect to the Catskill Aqueduct, part of the system of reservoirs and lakes in the Hudson Valley that supplies some 1.1 billion gallons of water daily to the New York City area.

To do so, though, it had to find a secondary back-up supply that could be tapped if the Catskill Aqueduct was unavailable. In 2010, the village purchased almost 10 acres nearby in the hamlet of Mountainville for a new well.

According to the complaint, the village proposed building 13.5 miles of pipeline through three towns from the Mountainville well to its municipal system and the Catskill Aqueduct.

Kiryas Joel would draw 612,000 gallons a day from the well, according to documents filed with the Department of Environmental Conservation, which is a named defendant along with the village.

The village declared itself lead agency under the State Environmental Quality Review Act to assess the environmental impact of the plan, and in late 2012 found that there would be none.

The well plan proved controversial, the complaint states, drawing objections "by many parties." A subsequent hearing by the state on the village's water-withdrawal permit also sparked "extensive public comment."

The complaint says that sometime during the nearly two-year annexation process, the village announced it no longer planned to connect to the Catskill Aqueduct but to rely instead on the Mountainville well as its primary municipal water source.

The land preservation plaintiffs - Black Rock Forest Consortium, Open Space Institute, Storm King Art Center and the Orange County Land Trust - then asked the village to rescind the earlier environmental review and mount a new one.

But the village refused and on Oct. 1, the Department of Environmental Conservation issued the necessary water-withdrawal permit.

The plaintiffs contend the first environmental review took just a cursory look at the Mountainville well because it was regarded as only an occasional back-up.

According to the plaintiffs, the review "only considered impacts that the construction work on the well and pipeline might have, not the impacts that drawing water from the Mountainville well might have upon the environment." (Italics in original)

The groups, which own or oversee vast acres of land along the Hudson River near Mountainville, contend the well plans will endanger nearby Woodbury Creek, a trout-spawning stream, and the larger Moodna Basin Watershed. The effect will be "irreversible," they contend.

They want the first environmental review nullified because it should have been rescinded. They also want the state's water-withdrawal permit vacated because they say the Department of Environmental Conservation failed to conduct a thorough inquiry into whether other water-supply sources exist or whether there will be "cumulative adverse impacts on the quantity or quality of the water source and water-dependent natural resources."

The groups ask that Kiryas Joel be permanently barred from using the well.

Village officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment made to their Albany public affairs firm, Corning Place Communications.

Stephen Gaba of Drake Loeb in New Windsor represents the plaintiffs.

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