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December 8, 2012

Town to vote on watershed law

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — The Oneonta Town Board is poised to enact an ordinance to protect the watershed that provides water to the city and some town residents.

The town board will have a public hearing about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday and is expected to vote on the ordinance during that meeting, Supervisor Robert Wood said. The hearing will be an opportunity for speakers to support the ordinance or raise concerns about it, he said.

The proposed Watershed Protection Overlay District has been in the works about 18 months.

Residents speaking during a meeting in March cited about 15 concerns regarding the measure, such as the fate of septic systems in the district and the size of developable lots, Wood said Wednesday, and the proposed ordinance has addressed those issues.

Existing septic systems would be allowed to remain in place and replaced in accordance with the regulations, the proposal said. The new ordinance would affect new subdivisions of property and new property developments but not apply in cases of new owners of existing properties, said Wood, a member of the panel that developed the proposed ordinance.

The goal of the proposed district is to promote the health and safety of the community by protecting existing sources of public drinking water. All proposed development, such as construction or new land use, within the district would have to show that it wouldn’t harm reservoir quality and quantity.

According to the pending legislation, the town of Oneonta areas to be protected include Wilber Lake and its tributaries, the lower reservoir and its tributaries, the Woodland Water District wellheads, the Oneonta city’s wellhead on county Route 8 and the city’s Webb Island wellheads.

The watershed district addressed is mostly in the northern part of the town, Wood said, and about 20 percent of the people served by the city’s water system are in the town.

The watershed area reviewed includes 98 parcels in the town of Oneonta, 48 in the town of Laurens and 23 in the town of Milford, Wood said, and he has sent letters to supervisors in Laurens and Milford to suggest their towns adopt similar protective measures.

At the Oneonta Common Council meeting Tuesday night, David Hutchison, chairman of the city’s Environmental Board, urged city lawmakers to lobby Oneonta Town Board members to pass the ordinance.

Wood said the momentum for developing the regulations initially was spurred by the debate over natural gas drilling. But officials realized that protecting the watershed before problems arose was a good idea, he said.

“This was an effort to be proactive,’’ Wood said.

The ordinance would require site plan review by the Oneonta Town Planning Board for all uses in the watershed districts, except one- and two-family residences, and lots would have to be at least 5 acres.

Landfills and mining in activities would be banned, under the ordinance, which also would regulates petroleum storage, the use and storage of manure, fertilizer and pesticides, among other factors.

The town code enforcement office will enforce the law, and violators would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $250 a day during the violation.

Wood said other members of the panel that developed the law included Hutchison, Carleton Delameter, former town councilman; David Merzig, city attorney; Devin Castendyk, associate professor in the hydrology, earth and atmospheric sciences department at the State University College at Oneonta; Erik Miller, former city Common Council member; Paul Neske, town code enforcement officer; and Scott Fickbohm, district manager for the Otsego Soil & Water Conservation District.

If approved Tuesday, the ordinance would take effect as soon as it was filed with the state Department of State, Wood said.