Lawsuit threatened over Virgil sewer project

Neighbor contends the town did not receive permits, but the town supervisor disagrees.


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
A Virgil resident has filed a notice of claim indicating she may sue the town over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act as it builds a new sewer plant.

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — Improvements to the Virgil town wastewater treatment plant on Route 392 have met with the threat of a lawsuit against the town by a local woman who claims the town failed to obtain needed permits for the project.
Lorene Hope of Artemis Drive, acting as a “concerned citizen,” sent a 60-day-notice letter of intent to sue for violations of the federal Clean Water Act, dated June 29, to Virgil Town Supervisor Jim Murphy.
“They (some local residents) appear to believe that things that are going on down at the wastewater treatment plant, even if the DEC (state Department of Environmental Conservation) approves them, aren’t being done properly,” Murphy said last week. The DEC implements the federal law in the state.
“The DEC, several years ago, said that there were concerns that they had about the sewage treatment plant,” he said. “We knew that there would come a time of when we needed to do some upgrades, regardless of what Greek Peak would do. The DEC was asking us if we ever considered some upgrades, and they gave us some recommendations.”
Greek Peak intends to begin construction of a 150-room hotel once building permits are received, and the sewage treatment plant would service the hotel. Greek Peak is also planning to construct hundreds of condominiums and single-family houses near its ski area along Route 392, as well as an indoor water  park and a golf course.
The plant primarily services Greek Peak and the nearby development, where Hope lives.
Hope was unavailable for comment, but is being represented by attorney Jonathan E. Cohen of Hudson.
“The details set forth in my letter certainly make it pretty clear that by proceeding with the construction of the plant without first getting the permit for the expansion is really a violation of the state regulations,” Cohen said. “It appears to be a pretty straightforward violation. This is not just a matter of finding some technical violation. There is an underlying concern about the nature of the expansion that they’re doing.”
Once the improvements at the site are complete, the plant will process 80,000 gallons per day, a 25 percent increase from current levels.
Only residents who are served by the wastewater treatment plant pay fees associated with it, and Murphy said that he’s concerned a $5,000 emergency fund will be spent on legal fees.
Murphy said that he had referred the letter from Hope’s lawyer to the Mahlon Perkins of Dryden, who represents the town on issues involving its water and sewer systems.
“I’ve just received a voluminous package of materials from our engineers today,” Perkins said Monday afternoon. “We’ll be formulating a response to Mr. Cohen’s notice of intent to sue.
I can assure you we will vigorously contest any claims that he’s made.”
Cohen said that the town had not received a State Pollution Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit prior to construction beginning in May, citing a “Notice of Complete Application” published by the DEC on the Environmental Notice Bulletin on June 7.
“The permits came in a year ago. We went out to bid last year, and then because of the weather, the contractors weren’t able to start … until this spring. We actually had approval from the DEC to start last year,” Murphy said.
Regional public affairs officer for the DEC, Diane Carlton, said that the agency had received a copy of the letter but was unable to respond until the matter had been reviewed by attorneys in Albany.
Murphy said that the plant discharges water that has been treated into Gridley Creek, much like Cortland’s wastewater treatment plant discharges into the Tioughnioga River.
The letter of intent also cited several occasions in the past two years when the levels of chemicals and contaminants in the effluent, or water discharged from the plant, exceeded the DEC’s allowable limits.
Murphy acknowledged that this was true, but said that the town’s engineers, Camp, Dresser and McKee of Massachusetts, had worked with the DEC to correct these problems within the new design.
While the letter of intent also alleges that the wastewater treatment plant’s location on the flood plain of Gridley Creek had been a problem in 1996, both Murphy and Tom Pulis, an engineer with Greek Peak, said that the plant has not been flooded since the completion of the construction of Hope Lake to the north in 2000.
Murphy said that Lorene Hope and Bill Allen, another Virgil resident, have “bombed” the town offices with requests for documents regarding the construction of the plant under the state Freedom of Information Act, and that the local DEC had even provided copies of correspondence regarding the project to Hope and Allen.
“I’m convinced between our legal, our engineering, and our DEC people, this is just a big exercise in a waste of time,” Murphy said. “It’s even to the point where the town clerk … it becomes a weekly dilemma when they come in and request things. It’s their right, there’s no doubt about that. I wish I could know what would make them happy, because I certainly would be willing to do it.”
Cohen said that it would be up to his client as to whether or not the lawsuit will proceed, and will hinge upon the response from the town. Perkins said that his office will review the case throughout the next week.
“You cannot file a suit under the Clean Water Act without first sending a letter and giving the authorities the opportunity to remedy whatever the problem is,” Cohen said. “They basically have put the cart before the horse. You can’t build a huge facility that’s going to pollute, and then apply for the permit.”



Congressional candidates split on stem cell research

Staff Reporter

President Bush’s veto of a bill last week that would have allowed for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research has revived political and scientific debate on the issue both nationally and locally.
A stem cell is a generic cell that is able to copy itself indefinitely in order to create specialized cells that make up specific tissues in the human body, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health online medical encyclopedia.
Benefits of the research include the possible ability to re-grow cells or tissues that are destroyed by currently incurable diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Beyond potential cures for these diseases, studies of stem cells may prove effective in determining ways to prevent them, according to the NLM/NIH, and the ability to grow stem cells indefinitely could be useful in testing drugs on specific types of human tissue.
The debate over the controversial research has infiltrated the race for Rep. Sherwood Boehlert’s (R-New Harford) soon-to-be vacant 24th Congressional District seat, as Oneida County District Attorney Michael Arcuri, the Democratic candidate, and state Sen. Ray Meier of Western, the Republican candidate, have come out on different sides of the issue.