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Lead Agency Dispute: City of Utica v. TrentonTown Board v. Zoning Board v. DEC

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Commissioner's Determination of Lead Agency
under Article 8 of the
Environmental Conservation Law

PROJECT: Hinckley Reservoir Water Treatment Plant, Town of Trenton, Oneida County

DISPUTING AGENCIES:

  • City of Utica, Board of Water Supply
  • Town of Trenton, Zoning Board of Appeals
  • Town of Trenton, Town Board
  • NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

This decision to designate the City of Utica, Board of Water Supply, as lead agency for the conduct of an environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process is made pursuant to Article 8 of the Environmental Conservation Law and 6NYCRR Part 617. I find that the primary impacts of the proposed project will have regional significance by providing the multi-municipal service area with potable water of improved quality.

This lead agency dispute involves the proposed construction and operation of a 32 million gallon-per-day water filtration plant and an in-conduit hydroelectric facility by the City of Utica, Board of Water Supply ("Board"), in the Town of Trenton, Oneida County. The primary purpose of this facility is to provide potable water to a service area that includes the City of Utica and 14 surrounding towns and villages, including portions of the Town of Trenton. Construction of the water treatment facility has been mandated by the New York State Department of Health to address existing water quality problems which are being experienced by that system.

In resolving a dispute about lead agency, I am guided by the three criteria listed in order of importance in 6NYCRR Section 617.6(e)(5). These are: whether the anticipated impacts are primarily of local, regional or statewide significance; which agency has the broadest powers for investigation of potential impacts; and which agency has the greatest ability to provide a thorough environmental assessment of the proposed action.

In consideration of the first criterion, the Town of Trenton ("Town") has identified the potential for impacts to West Canada Creek from construction within the 300 foot wide land conservation district and discharge of decant water from the lagoon system. In addition, the Town has identified as local concerns, traffic access to the site, visual impacts from construction, noise impacts from plant operation, and impacts from on-site storage of dried sludge. The Board has identified the supply area being served to support its position that the ability to provide high-quality potable water is of regional concern and a beneficial impact of project construction and operation. Although the immediate impacts from construction and operation of the proposed facility will be of local concern, they are impacts of a kind that the Board has authority to mitigate by changes in project design and operation. In contrast, the failure of the Board to provide water of adequate quality is an impact that could not be readily mitigated. Alternate supplies would have to be developed at likely greater expense and potentially more significant overall environmental impact.

Regarding the second criterion, the Board as the regional agency with the responsibility to oversee design and construction of the facility has the responsibility to ensure that a thorough environmental review is completed. If the environmental review identifies potential adverse impacts, the Board has the authority to require changes in project design and/or operation. The Town's authority, which consists of a conditional use permit under the zoning code and a permit to construct in a land conservation district, in this situation lacks the breadth of the Board's authority.

Regarding the third criterion, both agencies possess the ability to contract with consulting firms to assist them in conducting the necessary environmental review.

I conclude, based on the facts presented, that the City of Utica, Board of Water Supply, best serves the function of lead agency for conduct of review under SEQR for the construction and operation of a water treatment facility in the Town of Trenton, Oneida County, because the primary environmental concerns are regional in nature and the responsibility for meeting those concerns lies within the authority of the Board.

This decision does not in any manner change or limit the jurisdiction of any of the involved agencies or minimize their responsibilities to review the entire action and to assist the Board in the completion of the environmental review process. The issues brought to my attention in this dispute, such as the potential impacts to West Canada Creek from construction and operation of the plant, the availability of road access to the site and potential aesthetic concerns, will require the Board as lead agency to take a hard look at the relevant environmental impacts in making its determination of significance. I encourage the Town and the Region 6 office of the Department of Environmental Conservation, as involved agencies, to actively participate in the environmental review of this project.

/s/
Thomas C. Jorling Commissioner
Dated: May 7, 1989
Albany, New York

Distribution of Copies:

  • Russel LoGalbo, Principal Engineer, City of Utica Board of Water Supply
    James Hoke, Supervisor, Town of Trenton
    Mark Scheidelman, Councilman, Town of Trenton
    James McCarthy, NYS Department of Health
    Michael Gapin, Oneida County Planning
    Randy Vass, Regional Permit Administrator, DEC Region 6

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:

  • T. Jorling
    L. Marsh
    M. Gerstman
    G. Bowers
    J. Jensen
    F. Howell
    J. Homburger, Region 6
    B. Fenlon, Region 6

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