Water Fight

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One of the state’s most respected environmentalists has issued a scathing report that questions the city’s ability to safeguard its water supply. In a 62 page report, A Culture of Mismanagement, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. of the Hudson Riverkeeper Fund paints a picture of an ineffective city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The report, which was prepared a year ago and was obtained by City Limits in September, offers a startling glimpse into DEP’s dysfunction, drawing information from meetings, internal memos and interviews with agency officials. “The DEP’s institutional culture is intensely antagonistic toward a strong independent enforcement effort that might interfere with cozy relationships between district engineers and local developers and political leaders,” Kennedy writes.

According to the document, apathy within the agency poses serious threats to water quality. For example, in June 1996, the DEP closed down a building with an illegal sewer pipe months after the problem had been brought to the attention of an agency official. Most damning of all, the report shows that many of the managers in charge of critiquing development in the upstate watershed are not trained for the task. “With DEP AWOL,” the report reads, “the developer’s version of science and events often stands unchallenged.”

In a three-page response to the Riverkeeper report dated October 2, DEP Commissioner Joel Miele wrote, “DEP has been vigorously protecting its watershed….In fact, DEP has 55 positions in its water supply police department, with 45 police officers who regularly patrol the reservoirs and watersheds.” He also defends DEP’s decision to work with corporate polluters instead of pun-ishing them “whenever facilities may temporally fail to operate perfectly.”

The Miele missive “seems deliberately disin-genuous,” Kennedy says. “Of the 45 officers cited by the Commissioner, nine are still in the police academy while 33 of the remaining 36 are detailed for gatehouse security and are not involved in pollution patrol.” He adds that, according to an internal DEP report on upstate sewage treatment facilities, the agency’s leniency program is flawed: “Of the 70 plants in [DEP’s own] report, 29 (41%) exhibited chronic discharge problems that went unabated for at least three years.” Kennedy hopes he will have enough information on the agency to release a report twice a year called, “Inside DEP,” with a first issue due out next month.