ARKVILLE - Funding for projects are continuing through the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC). Despite the pandemic, it’s business as usual.
The CWC, was formed out of the 1997 New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and was signed by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, New York state, all counties, towns, and villages within the watershed, plus eight environmental groups. The MOA was the result of lawsuits filed by the upstate watershed towns after New York City (NYC) released a draft set of draconian watershed regulations in 1991. It took six years of negotiations, but the City agreed to fund a series of programs run by CWC. The CWC Board of Directors includes 12 local public officials elected by watershed town supervisors. Six CWC directors of the 15 are elected by Delaware County watershed town supervisors.
According to Jason Merwin, assistant executive director of the CWC, there have been no layoffs of the 21 full time staff members during this time - however, the structure of the work atmosphere - working remotely from home - has been adjusted accordingly.
“The CWC is an essential business on multiple fronts, both for public health and as a financial institution providing business loans,” he said. “Our employees are essential workers who have been doing an excellent job managing our programs throughout the watershed.”
The geographic area covered by CWC programs stretches across five counties and includes parts of 41 towns; 17 of the 19 towns in Delaware County are within the New York City Watershed and businesses and property owners in those towns can be eligible for CWC programs.
The CWC budget has averaged around $37 million over the last five years. CWC distributes the funds as grants to individual home and business owners to reimburse for septic repairs, NYC storm water regulation requirements or flood mitigation projects, direct payments for larger municipal wastewater and flood projects, or loans to small businesses.
He said the virus has not affected the corporation’s ability to distribute funding for projects.
“CWC contracts for much of its funding with the City of New York. As you know, the City is dealing with a major financial crisis at the moment,” said Merwin. “We don’t yet know how this will affect us in the future although we anticipate some potential tightening of funds somewhere down the road. We will continue to pursue funding at adequate levels to continue carrying out our role in watershed protection and community preservation and sustainability.
“CWC is also a provider of funding on many levels,” said Merwin. “Our Economic Development Program currently has a portfolio of roughly 120 active loans to businesses throughout the five county watershed area. In light of the current economic situation, CWC provided our most heavily hit borrowers, specifically tourism-based establishments, a six month forbearance of all payments. It is our hope this will help them get by and survive during the shut down. We also provided a 90 day forbearance of payments for additional businesses that made the request due to the negative impacts they were experiencing.”
Like many other businesses and agencies, the CWC has had to adjust during the pandemic.
“Our office is closed to the public so there may be additional time spent waiting for documentation by mail rather than hand delivered, but overall, we have been able to maintain our current disbursement schedule,” said Merwin. “We are moving forward with all projects. Our current funding and staffing levels are sufficient to keep us moving without many hiccups. Our projects range from homeowner septic replacements, to storm water management designs and implementation, to flood hazard mitigation, to economic development loans, to full blown community wastewater systems.”
Merwin said there have been some “obstacles” due to the pandemic and since the offices are closed to the public and personal meetings have been stalled.
“We feel we are handling these changes about as well as we can,” he said. “It is frustrating and difficult at times but we are trying to work with all involved to make sure watershed residents, businesses, and municipalities are being helped the best they can.”
He said some projects are continuing as scheduled but added, that others have been effected by the coronavirus.
“There are two specific projects that come to mind that have been impacted, however,” he said. “The first is the construction of a Septic Maintenance District in the Town of Shandaken, Ulster County. The contractor of the project has pulled off site, citing health concerns for their employees. That contractor has however started a second community wastewater project CWC is funding in the hamlet of West Conesville in Schoharie County, where conditions offer a safer workplace environment. That project has started and will provide for 54 residences and businesses to be connected to a community septic system. A second project that appears to have been affected is the Delhi Riverwalk project in Delhi, Delaware County. A portion of the project was anticipated to be paid for through state grants. Current conversations have indicated this funding may be delayed.
CWC will continue to manage all of our programs into the foreseeable future. Our funding and staffing are in place to continue all operations. This pandemic has opened some opportunities for us to explore and improve our remote working capabilities that will hopefully translate into some more efficient work practices outside of the office in the future.”