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Public questions both SRC water proposals

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MALONE - Attendees at an informational session on proposals to provide water service to the Salmon River Central School District raised several questions about the competing plans Tuesday.

Representatives from the town of Fort Covington and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe gave presentations on their water proposals. Susan Kennedy from the state Health Department and Christopher J. Crolius of March Associates and the district’s architect also gave presentations during the meeting.

After the presentations concluded the public was given the floor to ask about some of the concerns they had with the two water systems.

The first question that was posed was, if SRC sits in the town of Fort Covington, why was the school board even entertaining the idea of going outside the town.

SRC Superintendent Jane Collins answered the question on behalf of the board.

When the process of choosing a water supplier began, board members were unsure of what they would receive as far as proposals, Ms. Collins explained. She then stated that the board worked closely with Ms. Kennedy from the Health Department and that the board’s first reaction was to try and get grant money. Ms. Collins said getting grant money was not possible and the board started looking at other options.

“We turned to the tribe at the recommendation of the Department of Health, because of the excellent source of water the tribe has, and we then started to take a look at the capital project. The project was not passed yet and we had not yet gotten approval from the voters. We knew we needed to take care of this water issue. We were dealing with taking care of this water issue long before the vote was approved, because the Department of Health was telling us to do so,” said Ms. Collins. “So we were seeking proposals from those sources that we knew were available. The town came back with a good proposal once we knew what we had for funding and the vote passed for the project. At the same time, we worked closely with the tribe to see how their would look. That is how we got to this point and we are very, very happy that we have two good proposals here this evening.”

Another question was whether the residents in the Fort Covington water district would be required to vote on the proposal.

Town Supervisor Pat Manchester said it is not required unless the town was petitioned for a vote. The only time the residents have to vote is if the water district were to borrow money.

The questioner then asked how the project would be funded, since the district would not be reimbursed by the state Education Department until the project’s completion.

Mr. Crolius said it is true that the aid from the state Education Department will come at the end of the project, to be exact 18 months after the project’s completion. Mr. Crolius said the district is going to get bond anticipation notes to finance the construction and the design. He said there will be monthly payment applications similar to a construction process.

“The school board will approve those payments, once they are approved by us (March Associates) and the construction manager, so in a sense the district is financing it consistent with the capital project, so neither entity (the town of Fort Covington and the tribe) will have to finance,” said Mr. Crolius.

One questioner said the tribe seems very “cavalier” about crossing property lines for the water lines installations and wanted to know if property owners would receive financial compensation for the rights of way.

Tribe Director of Planning and Infrastructure Ernie Thompson said the construction was going to be done through the New York State Department of Transportation right of way lane down state Route 37 and county Route 1.

“We will have further public meetings on this issue as we move forward, especially on the environmental side. We will be very thorough and talk to every household, every landlord along the way to hear their concerns. We will be cognisant,” Mr. Thompson said.

Matthew Thompson, environmental resource coordinator for tribe’s environment division, said it is his job to make sure there is no impact on the residents or their yards.

“I make sure that after the construction team is through, it is put back the same way they found it. It is my job to make sure you get the proper seed, the proper everything so you wont notice anything went through your yard,” Matthew Thompson said.

Another questioner asked whether the school board had any concerns with their choices being between the town of Fort Covington –– which is a town in the state of New York –– versus dealing with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, which is an independent nation.

Ms. Collins said the board has consulted with the school attorney and has been in touch with the tribe’s attorney. She said the board has done an analysis of what kind of contract they would need to develop in order to enter into an agreement with the tribe.

The questioner came back asking about the duration of the agreement and expressing concern that the school district would be “held hostage” if a conflict involving the tribe arose in the future.

Tribal Chief Beverly Cook said, “I just want to say that we trust our children in your school with your administration and the teachers that work here. Our children make up 70 percent of the population in this school; we would never harm anyone’s children or withhold water or any asset we had to benefit kids, no matter where they are. Especially because our children are also here and we look at the children as the same.

We hope that our relationship continues to get better and we continue to be able to ask questions and speak to one another about our concerns,” Ms. Cook said.

The final question of the night was about the two proposals and the ability to provide fire hydrants to protect the school. The tribe has the capability to provide that service; Fort Covington does not.

Mr. Crolius said typically the state Education Department requires fire hydrants around the school building when there is municipal water system that can support fire hydrants.

“If the Fort proposal goes through, my understanding is that we will not have the pressure or the flow to serve traditional hydrants. No hydrants on site related to that proposal,” said Mr. Crolius. “With the tribe’s proposal, we believe there is adequate pressure and we will add hydrants to get coverage.”

Ms. Collins said the board will be asked to make a decision on the proposals at its April 29 meeting so that the school can keep on track with the timeline for the capital project that the school is putting together for the design phase. The deadline to submit all of the documentation to the state Education Department for the capital project is July. Ms. Collins said “This is a timely deadline that we have to meet.”

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