Schenectady County

Bill aims to protect water supplies

Sen. Hugh Farley still remembers a late-night phone call he placed to then Gov. Hugh Carey during th
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Sen. Hugh Farley still remembers a late-night phone call he placed to then Gov. Hugh Carey during the late 1970s to thwart a mining project located directly over a sensitive area of the Great Flats Aquifer.

Farley was in his first term in the Legislature when he urged the governor to take action against the mining operation. The company was apparently undeterred by the paltry $200-per-violation fine they faced for potentially polluting Schenectady County’s water source, recalled Farley, R-Niskayuna.

“For some companies unfortunately, they consider it a cost of doing business,” he said Thursday of the fine, which has remained unchanged since 1885.

This week, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill aimed at toughening penalties for those who violate public health laws regarding drinking water supplies. Under the legislation, violators could face fines of up to $1,000 per day and be required to pay reparations for any damages. Particularly egregious offenders could draw a year in prison, according to the law.

The state Assembly will now consider an identical bill sponsored by Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, who took up the legislation originally proposed last year by Paul Tonko before Tonko left the Legislature to head the New York state Energy Research and Development Authority. Kavanagh said the bill is now being discussed in the Assembly’s Health Committee.

“We recognize there is an important need to strengthen penalties on those people whose activities threaten the water system,” he said.

The bill was proposed after Rotterdam and Schenectady County officials voiced criticism over the weak penalties specified in the existing law. At the time, both the town and county were aggressively prodding a landowner to clean up an illegal junkyard off Route 5S in Pattersonville.

Members of the Schenectady County Intermunicipal Watershed Board feared that Michael Marotta’s collection of old construction equipment and rusting vehicles stored over a sensitive aquifer recharge zone could one day contaminate the county’s water supply. Marotta was eventually fined $2,000 under the county’s public health law — the maximum.

Rotterdam Supervisor Steve Tommasone was pleased to learn Farely’s legislation was advancing. The Town Board unanimously passed a resolution in August supporting the legislation, which has received broad bipartisan support throughout the county.

“We’re all on board to see something through here that will obviously affect all of us in New York state,” he said.

County legislators also passed a resolution supporting the bill this week. Legislator Judith Dagostino, D-Rotterdam, said those who threaten the county’s good water supply should face the stiffest of penalties.

“The value of water is too great,” she said. “For violators not to be penalized accordingly is not right.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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