December 6, 2011
Wellhead plan won’t impact college project
City regulations to protect aquifer cover area where student life center would be built
SUNY Cortland’s proposed student life center at the former Carl “Chugger” Davis Field is in the zone regulated by the city’s new Wellhead Protection Plan.
But college spokesman Fred Pierce said the project will not be affected by the plan, which is designed to regulate the kind of construction and activities that take place near the city’s sole-source aquifer at the city Water Works on Broadway.
Pierce said the college was “very supportive of the Wellhead Protection Plan.” He said he did not see anything in the plan that would stop the college from going through with the project.
“We think it’s a positive development,” Pierce said.
Local residents and city officials have raised concerns about the student life center, ranging from water contamination and pedestrian traffic to added light and noise.
Pat Reidy, a water quality specialist with the county Soil and Water Conservation District, was involved in the crafting of the city’s Wellhead Protection Plan.
Reidy said he did not think the college’s project would be affected by the plan because city zoning does not apply to the college. He also said the student life center does not seem to involve any activities that are regulated in the wellhead plan.
Mayor Susan Feiszli said she believed the plan could affect the college but referred comment to Reidy. City Attorney Patrick Perfetti could not be reached for comment.
The city Common Council adopted the wellhead protection plan during its Oct. 4 meeting with a 7-0 vote.
“I don’t see the Wellhead Protection Plan as a road block to the student life center,” Reidy said.
The boundary for the Wellhead Protection Plan would be roughly a 1,000-yard radius around the city’s Water Works. The plan prohibits certain construction within the district, such as building fuel stations, chemical processing facilities, mines, gravel pits and dry cleaners.
The plan is designed to prohibit and regulate activities that could contaminate the city’s water supply, through local zoning.
The proposed 148,00-square-foot student life center is a $56 million project, which will contain recreational facilities such as a running track, swimming pool, gymnasium and weight room.
Pierce said the college was aware of residents’ concerns, especially pertaining to the city’s sole-source aquifer.
“It does us no good to do something that would be detrimental to our water supply,” Pierce said. “It would put us out of business.”
About 10 years ago, Cortlandville created its own wellhead districts as part of an effort to protect its water supply. Cortlandville’s plan included a protection boundary for the aquifer in the city Water Works, which the city used in creating its own plan, Reidy said.
Pierce said the college considered other locations for the project, near Route 281 or adjacent to the Park Center, but the college believes the former Chugger Davis Field is the right location.
Pierce said the college could break ground on the new center sometime next year.
The student life center is in the design phase, Pierce said. The next major step will be to determine who will serve as the lead agency in the environmental review process.
A plan to put 200 thermal wells under the new building was abandoned.
The college says the New York State Construction Fund should be the lead agency, but the city wants to be the lead agency. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has not made a ruling on the issue.
The city Common Council also wants to impose zoning laws, since the project will be located in an R-1 residential zone. In June, Assistant Corporation Counsel Meira Hertzberg said the city Law Department has been studying cases in which a city or village stopped a building project by a larger government — or a college campus — by challenging its purpose and impact on residents.
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