Designed hastily to take advantage of State funding made available in 2019 in response to Lake Ontario flooding, Sterling Water District #2 (WD #2) received initial Federal and State funding offers in late 2019, but still had not gone out for bid as of January 2024. Now history is repeating itself as closed-door discussion of "Water District #4" begins.
Sterling Water District #2 (WD#2) will run along the blue lines and will serve the shaded areas on the map shown at left. The left wing of WD#2 lurches off toward Lake Ontario, eventually reaching undeveloped parcels along the fire lanes right along the shore. The district includes 138 land parcels, 31 percent of which (43) are vacant.
Why so many vacant properties? Why were vacant parcels on the lakeshore prioritized over occupied residential property in need of public water--or public facilities, such as the Sterling Nature Center, a County nature preserve, which will open a new $1 million facility in 2024, served only by wells and septic?
Designed in haste: With no public involvement in project design, and public information about project plans limited to this June 2020 slide show, the rationale behind the WD#2 project map is not apparent. The Town enginners, Capital Consultants Architecture and Engineering Inc. (C2AE) designed WD#2 hastily in 2019 to take advantage of NY State REDI funding. Original project plans called for WD#2 to be supplied by a new, Town-owned well in the Village of Fair Haven's wellfield. By the end of 2019, $5.3 million in construction funding ($3.3 million grant and $2 million loan) was on offer from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and NY State was offering $416,000 to fund 95 percent of the water tower,
Delays and Drama: After two years of unexplained project delay pending required wellfield "drawdown" tests needed in order to permit drilling the new well, the public was questioning the wisdom of the Town and Village owning wells in the Village-owned wellfield. By then, some Town Board members (Joan Kelley, Charlie Krul and Caren Thompson) were asking for analysis of other options for water supply. By the summer of 2022 the three Board members were frustrated with lack of response from C2AE and voted to hire another engineering consultant--Doug Miller (Miller Assoc., Manlius, NY) on an $800 monthly retainer to advise Board members on options. Soon thereafter, in August 2022, C2AE submitted a resignation letter to the Town. The project remained in limbo for the rest of the year, as presumably the Town attorney and C2AE's attorney negotiated contract close-out terms (these things are not known to the public). By January 2023, C2AE was back at work and had submitted a three-page project update including an alternatives analysis to the Town board. Revised project plans delivered in August 2023 call for the Onondaga County Water Authority (OCWA) to supply water to WD#2, with Operations and Maintenance (O&M) of WD#2 provided by Cayuga County Water and Sewer Authority (CCWSA). The rest of 2023 was consumed in agency reviews, which are still pending (as described below). As of this writing the project has not gone out to bid, let alone been constructed.
History repeats itself: The orange lines on the map above depict Sterling Water District #4 (WD #4), as conceived by C2AE. The engineering firm is urging the Town to move forward quickly with planning the new water district because it wants to justify the sizing of the new water tower that REDI is funding as part of the WD#2 project.
The water tower is sized to provide hydraulic pressure throughout the Town, and was originally intended to hook into WD#3 as well as WD#2, but under current project plans it will serve only the new WD#2. On November 30, 2023, the NY State Department of Health (DOH) officials administering the REDI grant notified C2AE that it wants the water tower downsized. C2AE now wants to justify the larger tower by hastening plans for an additional water district. In December 2023 C2AE requested $3000 from the Town to fund a new survey of residents of the proposed WD#4, and submitted a map of WD#2 with faint yellow highlights along certain roads as a map of WD#4. We printed out that file, darkened the yellow with an orange highlighter, and scanned it to produce the map above.
The new WD#4 is depicted as spanning Sterling Valley Rd, Green Rd, Center Rd, Farden Rd, Jensvold Rd to the Sterling Nature Center, Old State Rd, and Juniper Hill Rd. The jog out to the end of Juniper Hill Rd along the shore of Sterling Creek near the lakeshore runs into what looks on the map like a planned development, but in fact seems to have a lot of vacant parcels and seasonal "camps."
When an entire Township needs public water service, and is well-positioned to attract funding for it, how should priorities be determined? The present process seems to be "back of the envelope"-style planning carried out behind closed doors by the Town engineering firm and only some members of the Town Board. The Town's "Water Committee" consists of the Town Supervisor and one Town Board member. At the December Town Board meeting, the other three Town Board members were taken by surprise when told of C2AE's request to fund questionnaires as a start on WD#4. Shouldn't the Town have a more strategic approach to developing future public water districts?