Public participation is necessary for a successful program, however, judging from the town's conduct each year when the Annual Report is due, it's apparent that the Town of New Hartford is sorely lacking in the public involvement arena. But what else is new? Open government is not a priority in the Tyksinski camp!
WHAT IS A MS4?
MS4 stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System and is a State mandated initiative that grew out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (US-EPA) Federal Clean Water Act. Currently, the MS4 program is being administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation [D.E.C.].
As an MS4, the town is required to have a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan designed to address a wide array of stormwater pollution issues and concerns in an effort to protect our local water resources. Stormwater Management is an important part of the program.
To gauge the effectiveness of the Plan, an Annual Report which identifies achievements and evaluates overall success in terms of meeting the Minimum Control Measures must be prepared and submitted to the NYS D.E.C. by June 1st each year.
There are six (6) minimum control measures; one of them being public involvement. To satisfy that measure, a public hearing is supposed to be held with time given to the public for comment. Any public comments are to be incorporated into the report that is submitted to the D.E.C.
Recently we FOILed and received a copy of the adopted May 22, 2013 town board minutes from the Town Clerk’s Office. We were flabbergasted when we read the minutes regarding the 2013 MS4 report.
According to the May 22, 2013 town board minutes, the town has satisfied the public hearing requirement by reporting on the MS4 report at that town board meeting. It takes a lot of chutzpah to make that statement.
Usually a public hearing is announced to the public; how else will anyone who is interested know to attend? We have noticed other towns in the area that have either put a legal notice or sent a press release to the Observer Dispatch letting residents know the time and place of the Annual Report discussion PRIOR to submitting the report to the D.E.C. The Town of New Hartford May 22, 2013 town board meeting agenda made NO mention of a discussion or public hearing on the MS4 report to be held that evening.
According to the May 22, 2013 town board minutes, which was unanimously approved by the town board [Councilman Miscione was absent], Highway Superintendent Rick Sherman gave quite an informative presentation explaining MS4 measures and reporting requirements.
Here are the minutes of the May 22, 2013 town board meeting regarding the MS4 report:
Who wrote those minutes? Were they at the same meeting that we videotaped?
Compare those minutes to the video we took at the May 22, 2013 town board meeting…
Videos don’t lie. Mr. Sherman’s presentation doesn’t even come close to the adopted town board minutes. Again, who wrote these minutes?
Here’s a copy of the 2013 MS4 report. We used our Adobe software to make the report searchable. Reports for other years are available on the town’s website.
On page 23 the report asks..."Was an Annual Report public meeting held for all MS4s contributing to this report during this reporting period?" Answer…yes
Then the report asks...Were comments received during this reporting period? Answer…No
There were no copies of the MS4 report made available for the public to read prior to or during the meeting. The Freedom of Information Law requires documents that are to be discussed by a public body to be made available on the town website BEFORE the meeting or available at the meeting. The Town Clerk, town attorney and town board are well aware of this requirement.
Mr. Sherman stated that the report would be online the next day. No comments, really? Were they even looking for public comment at the May 22nd town board meeting? Based on Mr. Sherman's limited presentation, how could anyone possibly comment on the report that evening? No one was even asked if they had any questions about the report.
Mr. Sherman didn’t write the report alone; Joann Faulkner Humphreys, who works for Oneida County Soil and Water Conservation, wrote the report with him.
The Town of New Hartford used to have a Stormwater Committee that usually met every month. We “Googled” Stormwater Committee website pages for other town’s in NYS. They put our progressive “economic engine” to shame! Most other towns charge their stormwater committee with MS4 reporting, looking for grant opportunities, public education, along with a myriad of other duties. Take a look at the Stormwater Committee website for the Town of Lewisboro, NY.
The Town of New Hartford Stormwater Committee has been disbanded, and Supervisor Tyksinski apparently doesn’t have an appetite for bringing it back. Actually, the committee never really had a mission other than to figure out how to spend the $2 million dollar stormwater bond which is now just about depleted.
According to the MS4 report filed for 2013, the Town of New Hartford has a website for disseminating stormwater information, Town of New Hartford Stormwater.
To be honest, we couldn’t find a link to this page anywhere on the town's website [the one they tell you to check if you want to know town-related information]. The only way you would know this town stormwater website exists is if you read the report; the report that you probably didn’t know existed because the town has failed miserably in the public involvement part of the MS4 regulations.
The town was designated a MS4 in 2003 and it took until November 2011 for the town to adopt legislation to establish minimum stormwater management requirements for all new construction. There's been a lot of new construction since 2003. It's time to figure out how to handle the stormwater run-off from the development that is already in place and take a serious look at any new development.
Why do we videotape meetings? By now the answer should be obvious!