Town of Florida proposing new water district | News

“They’re proposing to establish a water district which will add an additional tax burden to the residents of the hamlet of Fort Hunter,” resident John McGlone said Tuesday. “I’m asking that the board make sure the decision they’re making is informed and correct, based upon accurate information and most importantly, I think, that it’s based upon a need.”

The Florida Town Board conducted a public hearing Monday on the proposed creation of the water district and water system improvements. Additional comments on the plans can still be made in writing, submitted to the town clerk or in person, when another public hearing is conducted on a related bond resolution during a special meeting at 9 a.m. on June 10.

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Officials said the bond resolution is needed to show the town’s commitment to moving forward with plans to extend the water system to the hamlet in order to support an impending grant application for up to 60% of the project cost to the state Water Infrastructure Improvement program.

“It doesn’t mean the project is shovel in the ground, we’re just taking all the necessary steps to complete the full application for this grant,” Town Supervisor Eric Mead said. “We’re going to wait to see where we end up.”

John Frazer Barton & Loguidice 2

John Frazer, of Barton & Loguidice, on Monday discusses a proposal by the town of Florida to create a water district and extend the system in the hamlet of Fort Hunter.

The project developed by engineering firm Barton Loguidice would involve extending water service from Route 5S into the hamlet and installing a pressure-reducing station to supply water in the low-lying area of the town, hydrants, valves and an aeration treatment system in the town’s existing 3 million gallon water storage tank.

“The project provides a public benefit through connection to a reliable drinking water source, adequate fire protection for the Fort Hunter residents and improved water quality for all town of Florida residents,” said John Frazer, of Barton Loguidice.

The project is eligible for a no interest loan over 30 years through the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Property owners within the newly established water district would be assessed property taxes to repay the debt service on the project. If the project was solely funded through the loan, the cost to homeowners is estimated at $2,098.79 per equivalent dwelling unit.

If the grant application is successful, that sum would fall to $839.51 per year. The town is additionally considering providing up to $750,000 from fund balance to support the project, which alongside the grant would reduce the annual cost to $590.75.

Additionally, homeowners would be responsible for the cost of voluntarily connecting to the water system, for which estimates were not available. Property owners in Fort Hunter would be taxed for the extension of the water system regardless of whether they actually connect to it.

Officials say the project is needed to improve water quality in the hamlet where some small residential lots led to wells being placed less than 100 feet from septic systems. This has led to instances of contamination in the past when septic systems leaked.

Fort Hunter proposed water district

A map of the water district proposed by the town of Florida in the hamlet of Fort Hunter.

“I truly feel we should supply some sort of water service to the hamlet of Fort Hunter,” Mead said.

The costs of the extended water system may be less than Fort Hunter residents already spend each year on individual systems and supplies to treat the well water used at their homes, Mead suggested.

However, McGlone said those arguments are based on anecdotal evidence instead of an assessment of the actual conditions and needs in the hamlet, as well as the economic impact of the project on residents. He added that the 16,000 gallons per day estimated demand in the hamlet is based on averages in existing water districts in the town

“My speculation would be that residents here cannot afford that. It will present a hardship, yet they will be taxed for not using it for 30 years,” McGlone said.

Furthermore, McGlone claims a number of errors were made on the Part 1 assessment form completed by engineers as part of the required State Environmental Quality Review to determine whether the project will result in any significant impacts on the environment.

The form states “approximately 15,000 linear feet of new water main” will be installed as part of the project, which contradicts the 11,500 feet Frazer stated would be installed. The form also states the project area is zoned residential and commercial. The hamlet is actually in the town’s historic zoning district.

McGlone suggested those and other issues could be the basis for an Article 78 proceeding challenging the town’s decision should it approve the project. In spite of these concerns, he said he hasn’t formed an opinion on the proposed water district.

“This town is well run, I trust these people,” McGlone said. “I don’t trust the data and I can’t make a decision about how I feel until I know more, and based upon what happened last night and the inaccuracies, I’m concerned.”

Additional concerns were raised by McGlone over the quality of the town’s water, but Mead said the project is partially aimed at addressing repeated compliance issues related to the presence of disinfection byproducts in the water supply.

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The problem largely stems from the 10 to 15 days water is held in the town’s 3 million gallon storage tank before there is fresh turnover. After water is supplied by the city of Amsterdam, the holding period in Florida allows chlorine used for disinfection to react with natural materials in the water resulting in byproducts. Installation of an aeration system should aid the issues, as well increasing the number of users.

“This project is not just the extension of water to Fort Hunter,” Mead said. “The town is doing necessary upgrades to the tank that we need to do.”

Still, Mead said the town is not trying to force the project on residents and he doesn’t intend to entangle the town in a legal battle should there be a challenge or a majority of property owners in Fort Hunter make their opposition to the plans clear.

“Let’s not worry and get all excited yet, let’s see what we can pull together for funding for it to make it feasible and palatable for all the residents in the hamlet to feel good about the project. We’re trying to do something to help down in that area,” he added.

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