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Greig facing another lawsuit over bulk water project

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GREIG — The town once again is facing a lawsuit over a controversial bulk water project.

While the town Planning Board conditionally approved a special permit in May for a 7,600-foot underground pipeline, applicants John T. and Lynn L. Smoke, Bangor, Pa., have taken exception to a board restriction that no construction may commence until they get additional town approval for surface wells on their property to be used commercially.

In a state Supreme Court lawsuit recently filed in the Lewis County clerk’s office by their attorney, Raymond A. Meier, the Smokes are asking a judge to declare that the board exceeded its authority, with the state alone able to regulate water resources, and order that the town remove its pipeline permit restriction.

“In spite of the exclusive jurisdiction of the State of New York and its complete preemption of the field of regulating water resources, the Town Planning Board now seeks to condition and limit a special use permit for a pipeline to be used to convey water and to require approval for such use of water,” the suit states.

For more than a decade, the Smokes have been working to develop a facility for the collection, bulk storage and shipment of spring water. However, many Greig residents have opposed it, and initial attempts to gain approval for a commercial operation in the town were unsuccessful.

The couple then proposed building a facility off Burdicks Crossing Road in the town of Turin and constructing a waterline under the Black River to connect the spring on their Greig property with the proposed building under the auspices of the Hidden Falls Spring Water project.

Under the proposal, water would flow from seven concrete tile infiltration collection units to a device limiting withdrawal to a maximum of 200 gallons per minute, or 288,000 gallons per day. It then would flow through the pipeline by gravity to a bulk-storage facility, from which it would be transported by truck to an unspecified facility.

The Smokes filed an application last August to install the pipeline in Greig, with plans for an additional 8,400 feet in the town of Turin.

However, the Greig Planning Board at its September meeting declined to consider the application, suggesting that it is an accessory to a proposed loading facility in Turin and that zoning authorization for commercial activity on the Greig property must be obtained first.

That led to a prior lawsuit, one of several filed by the Smokes against the town over the years, and state Supreme Court Judge Hugh A. Gilbert in February ordered the town Planning Board to do a more complete review of the proposed pipeline “on its merits” but stopped short of the Smokes’ request to force the town to accept their application.

The town Planning Board by a 3-2 vote then granted the conditional approval, with board members Judy Wilson and Jack Kotanch opposed. The permit approval also included a condition that proof of required zoning and building permits in Turin be submitted before construction could begin, but the Smokes apparently are not challenging that.

The Turin town Planning Board in late 2010 approved its portion of the project. However, given the amount of time that has passed since approval, Turin town Zoning Officer Timothy R. Widrick has said that if the project ever does move forward, he would once again review plans and check with town planning officials before issuing a required land-use permit.

The Army Corps of Engineers, state Department of Environmental Conservation and Lewis County Highway Department have already issued needed permits for construction of the pipeline project and its extension under both the river and a county road, and the complete project received DEC approval several years ago.

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