At a press conference held at the Ellenville Regional Hospital on Monday, State Senator John Bonacic (R/I/C - Mount Hope) pledged his support to Wawarsing residents on or near the section of Route 209 who are flooded every year due to cracks and leaks within the Delaware Aqueduct which runs 700 feet underneath the town.
"This is a problem that's been caused by the Department of Environmental Protection in New York City," said the senator of the flooding. "I've spoken to Emily Lloyd, the commissioner. I said, 'if this was your house, you would make sure you would get this aqueduct fixed in a minute…And Emily Lloyd admitted the aqueduct is leaking — admitted it."
Senator Bonacic discussed $10 million in state funds that were allocated to his senate district — which spans most of Ulster, parts of Orange, and all of Sullivan and Delaware Counties — for the purpose of home-buyouts for those affected by flooding that's caused by natural disasters, such as flooding rivers. Unfortunately, because the flooded Wawarsing residents who held last Friday's meeting at the Napanoch Fire House believe that the leaking Delaware Aqueduct is the culprit of their flooding problems, such funding would not be available for similar home-buyouts for those residents. In essence, the supposed cause of their flooding is unnatural, caused by human error, and as such, according to Senator Bonacic, litigation against New York City's Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) is the only way these residents can receive funds and financial aid to cover the money they've lost on pumping and damaged or destroyed property.
Even still, Senator Bonacic was adamant about holding NYCDEP accountable for finding a solution to the residents' flooding problems.
"We cannot wait for the Federal government to step up because if we do that we will drown in both bureaucracy and water," said the senator in a press release distributed at the conference. "We need the DEC, in cooperation with local soil and water conservation districts to spend the money necessary to clean out streams, widen culverts, and obtain the results people need."
Residents Julianne Lennon and Laura Smith—who were the two main organizer's of last Friday's meeting—appeared at the press conference beside Senator Bonacic. They thanked the senator for his support, saying that they are grateful for his help in shedding light on their situation. Lennon also provided an update regarding what effects NYCDEP's shutoff of the aqueduct had on her property; she reported that within an hour of the tunnel's shutoff, her well's water level sank two feet, eventually lowering a total of three feet, one inch. Such results seem to show that the affected area's wells are tapping the leaked water from the aqueduct, and that NYCDEP's fixing the flooding problem by sealing the tunnel's cracks would only create the new problem of homes without access to running water via wells. If nothing else, however, the sinking well-levels seem to implicate the aqueduct's leaking water as the culprit of the floods, therefore vindicating Lennon and Smith's claims against NYCDEP.
Town of Wawarsing Deputy Supervisor Terry Houck was on hand to discuss what the town board will do to try and help, saying that NYCDEP Deputy Commissioner Paul Rush will appear before the Town Board on June 19. Rush will share all of NYCDEP's findings from the aqueduct shutoff last week, and the town will then act accordingly based on that information. Part of their action will be asking NYCDEP to allocate money for the town to hire an engineer to further study the problem and offer suggestions to the town regarding implementing new drainage systems. Until more information is gathered, however, Houck said the town and its afflicted residents would not be best served if they were to rush into funding drainage projects without as much information as possible, because such projects might wind up not helping or possibly even making the problem worse.
"The town is going to entertain a resolution for gathering funds to get an engineer to ascertain what area is affected by this aqueduct. That's the town's responsibility," said Houck of what the town should do before it begins to work in the area. "I believe it's the town's responsibility to find out exactly what homes in what area in the town of Wawarsing are affected by the aqueduct…if we go out and start doing, making a culvert here, a culvert there, we feel we've fixed it, then all of a sudden the water comes and ruins what we've done, we're wasting money."
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