Fredonia declines to support regional water district grant

During a special meeting Tuesday, the Village of Fredonia officially decided not to support the county acting as sole grant seeker for a proposed $38 million regional water district in northern Chautauqua County.

As a result of uncertainty over the water treatment plant’s future, the Fredonia Village Board unanimously passed its own crafted resolution, declining to express its support of the project. Trustee Marc Ruckman was the only one not present during the meeting to vote.

In previous meetings, the board learned the treatment plant would more than likely close due to little need for it in a regional district. The board thus became wary of closing the plant, which is currently undergoing multi-million dollar upgrades mandated by the County Health Department.

“To close the Fredonia water plant and lose the millions of dollars invested by village residents in making an efficient and well-run water system does not make sense,” the resolution stated.

The board was required to vote on the matter by Aug. 12, the application deadline for the grant. Trustee Susan Mackay said she voted in favor of the resolution due to a lack of time to weigh the consequences of closing the treatment plant.

“The documentation, which we got (Monday) at 4:30, has 117 pages,” she said.

“I was disappointed to see they continue to recommend the closing of the Fredonia plant without proper justification. I think for health and safety reasons … , the pharmaceutical scandals of dumping in the lake and the old industrial waste that’s sitting under the silt, there are many reasons that having Lake Erie the sole source is concerning,” Mackay said.

“I think there has to be a better plan than excluding Fredonia and closing down the reservoir and getting rid of that viable water source,” Trustee Phyllis Jones said. “I just wasn’t comfortable with us having to decommission the water plant. We should look at some other options.”

The resolution included a laundry list of reasons the board did not wish to sign on to the grant application. Most of these reasons pointed out the inherent benefits (as seen by the board) of continuing to maintain the reservoir, including the exclusion of having to use electricity to deliver water to village residents, the elimination of various environmental risks from the use of Lake Erie water and the possibility of providing a redundant water source in the regional water district.

“There is a lack of any reports, plans or studies and insufficient time to adequately review and analyze the cost and benefits, if any, or the liabilities, if any, of a district and of closing the … plant,” one of the reasons stated.

Chadwick Bay Regional Development Corp. Executive Director Kathy Tampio said she was disappointed by the outcome of the vote and said she believed Fredonia would have been more apt to sign on if officials had provided information to the project engineers sooner, in turn providing more accurate numbers regarding cost estimates and savings benefits. Between April and May, village officials put off giving the necessary information for the sake of working on their budget, which they regarded as more important at the time.

“This doesn’t mean future participation is ruled out, so hopefully a future board will see the benefit of it,” Tampio said. “Providing information to (Chadwick Bay and the project engineers) sooner would have better addressed the board’s concern of not getting adequate information within a timeframe where they could evaluate it and perhaps give us some feedback of their concerns and get all this information to us that was in the resolution tonight.”

Tampio said nine other municipalities in the northern Chautauqua region have passed a resolution allowing the county to submit an application for grant money for the project.

“These funds will then enable the implementation plan to be completed and designed to meet the needs of all the Chadwick Bay communities and also enable the potential for expansion for the residential and business customer base, not only in the village of Fredonia, but in the entire region,” Tampio said before the board voted on the measure. “It is important to remember this plan is a living document and with the active participation of each community, it will continue to develop and address the needs and concerns of each and every participating community.”

Village Mayor Stephen Keefe said that while Fredonia is not signing on to the grant application, that does not at all close the door on Fredonia eventually joining in the regional water district efforts.

“I’m going to the next Chadwick Bay meeting and every meeting I can make and I’m in favor of a regional water district. It’s just, why not incorporate the treatment plant?” he said. “When you look at the water coming off the ridge, it’s a good, clean water and you don’t have to worry about environmental pollutants, so (the board) is saying, ‘Why close that down to get Lake Erie water?'”

Keefe also said he is uncomfortable with the eventual long-term plan of the water district, which he interpreted as getting all the region’s water from Erie County, Pa., and closing down all water manufacturing in Chautauqua County.

“It hasn’t been clear what their ultimate goal in the plan is,” Mackay said regarding the topic.

“To me, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to close down a reservoir that’s done a great job for us and pay a higher rate and then share that load, that debt we owe on the plant, with our consumers,” he said. “Closing the treatment plant should be a last resort and there has to be proper justification to do that. Right now, I don’t see that.”

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Trustees Room of the village hall

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