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December 18, 2012

Watershed protection isn't dead, official say

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — A vote last week to abandon a watershed protection plan in the town of Oneonta is a setback, not a death knell for watershed protection, several officials involved with the initiative say.

Town Supervisor Robert Wood said last week that a new committee is likely to be appointed in January or February to come up with a new proposal based on the plan that was voted down.

“I don’t think we have to start completely from scratch,” he said of the proposal. “I certainly hope that whatever new committee is formed to review this uses this as a basis to start from.”

The town board’s vote to start over came last Tuesday at the end of a two-hour public hearing on plan. Board member Scott Gravelin, who led the committee that wrote the proposal, offered the motion to start over, which was quickly seconded by board member William Mirabito. Board member Janet Hurley-Quackenbush voted with Gravelin and Mirabito to pass the motion. Wood and board member David Jones voted against it.

“We started last March doing this,” Gravelin said Monday. “The whole time we did it, including the public hearing we had, nobody mentioned compensation for the property. … The way it was written just leaves too many questions. It has to be refined better, and some kind of a compensation agreement has got to be made.”

Mirabito agreed, “There has got to be a financial discussion.”

“I had about five residents call me,” he said. “Judging by that night (the night of the vote), there were a few that spoke out that night. I’d recommend that they participate on the committee.”

Oneonta City Manager Michael Long, who attended the meeting, said Monday he thought the vote was premature.

“I thought they were just having a public hearing,” he said. “I didn’t really know they were talking about a vote, but I believe the sentiment of the town was to try to go back and maybe have a little bit more conversation with some additional people and maybe make a few more changes to it before it got to that final version.”

The city of Oneonta owns more land in the proposed district than any other landowner, Long and Wood said, although they were unable to provide a exact figure. Moreover, a considerable number of people in the town receive their water from the city system.

Wood said that 718 addresses receive annual water bills from the city. Three entities receive monthly bills, he said: the State University College at Oneonta; Job Corps and Stericycle. In addition, 14 properties are billed quarterly, he said, including the Plains at Parish Homestead and four trailer parks. At an average of two residents per home, apartment and trailer, upwards of 40 percent of town residents receive city water. All of the public schools are on city water, too.

Most of the speakers at last Tuesday’s meeting expressed support for the plan, but a few residents of the proposed watershed district raised vehement objections to proposed rules on fuel storage, a 5-acre minimum subdivision and septic systems.