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County Legislature OKs 'Comprehensive Plan' for Rockland

Plan adopted despite Rockland Water Coalition members calling for a more specific water policy.

The Rockland County Legislature voted Tuesday night to adopt a new comprehensive plan for the county, designed to help local government officials as they make future decisions about development and land use.

The comprehensive plan, which took much of 2010 to develop, was approved in a 16-1 vote but was the target of some last-minute criticism. Members of the Rockland Water Coalition spoke out against immediate adoption of the plan, saying it did not put in place a specific water-management policy for the county.

“A lot of the concerns that were brought forth were answered, and if we postpone this and we try to do a water plan at this point, I think what happens now is we’re going to have to go back and spend more taxpayer monies,” Legislator Ed Day, R-New City, explained after the meeting. “That to me is a duplication of services. […] The water plan is going to stand on its own merits, and there’s more time to really weigh the merits and the concerns people expressed here[at the meeting] in that type of forum.”

The comprehensive plan deals with community development by focusing on public policy in several areas, including land use and housing.

Several members of the Rockland Water Coalition spoke at the public participation portion of the Legislature session Tuesday night. Many of them reiterated the same ideas and referenced a recently-released U.S. Geological Survey report, a five-year study that looked at Rockland’s drinking water supply and population growth.

Members of the Coalition feared that since the report just came out this past week, the legislators did not have a chance to consider its suggestions before approving  the comprehensive plan. Similarly, the coalition members mentioned other upcoming studies that would detail how much water is used in Rockland and by whom. The coalition wanted to postpone the Legislature’s vote until these studies could be considered in more detail.

“I’m not surprised [that the plan was passed],” said Terri Thal of New City, a member of the Rockland Water Coalition and board member of the West Branch Conservation Association. “I expected the plan to be passed. I’m not happy. I think the plan is not specific. It says ‘think about,’ ‘consider,’ ‘recommend,’ suggest.’ It doesn’t say ‘do’. There’s no [action] verbs.”

Another common thread of the coalition members’ speeches was the idea that the plan did not put in place a specific water management policy but instead spoke in generalities. Peggy Kurtz, a member of the coalition, called the plan “neutral” because it does not attempt to shape a specific sustainable water policy.

The adoption of this plan comes as United Water New York is seeking approval from the state government for a desalination plant that would be built in Haverstraw to draw water from the Hudson River to boost Rockland's drinking water supply. Some members of the coalition, including Bob Dillon, felt that the plan should not be passed until more information is known about the plant and how it will affect the Rockland water supply.           

After the public participation, several members of the legislature responded to the coalition’s speeches. Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell, D-West Nyack, read a prepared statement addressing some of the coalition’s concerns. She stated that she was “proud” of the plan and all the work that went into it, and she admitted that he plan was “neutral” because it took care not to favor one community or one voice over any others.  She also claimed that the plan did call for a water management policy along with the promotion of water conservation.

Legislator Connie Coker of South Nyack then reiterated these thoughts, stating that she knows many of the coalition members by name because they all worked together on sustainable water issues in the past. She noted that this plan is a “place to start” on the way to a water management policy, and she hoped that once the plan was passed she could work with the Coalition again on creating such a policy.

Other legislators had concerns with different parts of the comprehensive plan. Day, for example, spoke out about the plan’s housing policies, noting that the language had good intentions but he feared it could be improperly interpreted by developers for their own benefit.

“The concerns that I expressed were that the document is not used inappropriately by developers," Day said after the meeting. "We want to make sure that the town and village levels of government understand that we’re not pushing this on them, that they have to make due diligence and their own decisions. It’s based on my experience the last time, back in 1999 as a citizen I was a member of the comprehensive plan committee, and there was a moratorium. And once the moratorium was off and the plan was in, what occurred was developers are coming in and trying to change everything. […] Given the fact that in New City we are in the middle of a redevelopment of the hamlet […] my concerns are the language of the comprehensive plan could be used to hoist unwarranted development on areas that are already set.”

But in the end, all the legislators voted to pass the comprehensive plan except for Legislator Douglas Jobson. He shared the belief of the Coalition members that more time was needed to go over the USGS study before a proper plan could be put in place.

“I thought with the water study that had just become public days ago that there was really no hurry to go forward at this time,” explained Jobson after the meeting. “We could have waited, digested that information, and that’s one of the major resources for the county of Rockland that we have to worry about in the next decades, is our water supply and water usage.”

To read the entire comprehensive plan, go to http://www.rccompplan.com/.

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