DEP Acts on the Suggestions of Assemblymember Kevin Cahill

March 15, 2006

Two significant announcements were forthcoming this week from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection regarding the Gilboa Dam repair project, a topic that has remained in the headlines as a major concern to residents of the Catskill Watershed, most specifically, those whose homes and livelihoods were all but destroyed last Spring in devastating floods.

Today will mark the start, according to DEP spokesperson Ian Michaels, of the release of water from the Ashokan Reservoir through a waste channel that has lain dormant for years – a move that requires the flooding of parts of the State University of New York at New Paltz Ashokan Field Campus. On Monday, March 13, 2006, DEP officials went on record as stating that they will implement reservoir spill controls similar to those in use at the Pepacton and Neversink Reservoirs at the Gilboa Dam once new release works are installed during the reconstruction project slated to begin in 2008.

This announcement comes on the heals of an Assembly Hearing on Dam Safety, where Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D-Ulster, Dutchess) strongly recommended to DEP officials that they move to upgrade their facilities through the installment of flood management devices. Both measures are being undertaken as short term and long-term efforts to avoid or reduce the potential for flooding.

Assemblymember Cahill is encouraged by what he is hearing from the DEP this week. This is due, in large part, to his efforts over many months to pressure the New York City agency to take a proactive approach and look at avenues of flood relief that they have been reluctant to pursue in the past. As early as last June, Mr. Cahill traveled to lower Manhattan to meet with DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd and her top brass to open a dialogue on many fronts, with reservoir management practices at the top of the list.

“Many area politicians have used last year’s flooding and the more recent news of dam inspection and maintenance issues to put the DEP in the hot seat and bash their seeming lack of concern for Hudson Valley residents in pursuit of their mission to supply New York City with potable water,” Mr. Cahill noted. “My approach, rather, while acknowledging the shortcomings of the DEP, was, and continues to be, on providing a focus on fostering an open channel of communication with these officials to suggest ideas and approaches, such as spill controls and wasting water, to protect our citizenry and land. Indeed, it appears that my specific and repeated urging, both in public and private discussions, of an investigation of the reopening of the Ashokan waste channel and the possibility of implementing a new means of lowering waters in the Gilboa Dam, has been heard.”

On the same note, last week, Mr. Cahill was the guest speaker at a meeting hosted by area Town Supervisors at the Shandaken Town Hall. The meeting was attended by a host of officials from upper and lower Esopus communities, along with emergency response leaders and municipal services workers. DEP practices, including the Gilboa Dam release via the Shandaken portal and its negative effect on the area economy and ecology, were discussed.

“It was evident from the many concerns put forth by attendees that the DEP has a long way to go in showing Ulster County that they are willing to address the issues at hand. I plan on continuing to engage the DEP in fruitful discourse and will not let up until our residents are able to achieve a measure of assuredness that this agency is responsive,” Mr. Cahill concluded.