State officials appalled at neglect of private water system
Despite a state investigation in 2019, conditions haven’t improved, say customers of the Hudson Valley Water Company, which operates private water districts in West Hurley, Rosendale, Pine Hill, Boiceville and Saugerties.
County and state officials heard from about 20 people in a June 23 hearing at Woodstock Elementary School. Complaints will be added to the 2019 file.
“The (Ulster County) Department of Health is calling the owner of the water company, Mr (Jeffrey) Fuller, for not monitoring the system effectively and if he does not show up, we will move on to the next steps with the county attorney. and take legal action,” Deputy County Manager Marc Rider said.
West Hurley appears to be the epicenter of the problems, where two systems serve 84 customers. Network No. 4 serves 68 residences in the Holland Drive and Brittany Drive area and Network No. 3 serves 16 residences in the Pine Street area.
Complaints range from constant billing issues to frequent water main breaks, to water corroding plumbing and fixtures.
“We don’t have enough time to review the 49 points that were raised by the Public Service Commission. But what we do know is that since this report came out, many of you have called our offices back and told us that the water company has not complied with the requirements set out by the public service,” said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. said. “We talk about your drinking water and what you need to use every day for your family. It’s something essential, and there shouldn’t be a problem. There shouldn’t be a need to go back and report to the Public Service Commission to say they didn’t do what they said. What are we going to do now?”
One of 49 recommendations released as a result of the 2019 investigations was a request for the Hudson Valley Water Company to investigate interest in forming a municipal water district within six months. Cahill asked city leaders if the company had done any research.
Hurley officials had no record of such correspondence.
In another recommendation, the company is supposed to respond to cloudy water issues and notify customers of potential solutions within six months. Cahill asked for a show of hands from anyone who has heard of the company. No one raised their hand.
“Has anyone here seen the company emptying their fire hydrants regularly twice a year,” he asked. Again, no one raised their hand.
The same goes for other recommendations, including clearly marking the estimate vs. actual reading on invoices.
State Senator Michelle Hinchey is introducing two bills that she says will give people relief. Small Utilities Transparency Act grants Public Utilities Commission, Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of the State Comptroller greater audit power over small utilities water.
The second bill creates the New York State Small Water Authority, which establishes a new public utility corporation to oversee small water utilities and provides the ability to take over small water companies when they are deficient.
“We are very confident, especially with this testimony, one of the things that comes out of here is that we are able to take this and show our colleagues, our lawyers, how important these two laws are. . Because look what happens when there is no regulation on the books. Look what happens when there are no laws,” Hinchey said.
“We first heard about this issue in the summer of 2019. Assemblyman Cahill’s office contacted us and shared many stories about what was going on with everyone’s water at cause of major cuts, water outages and jugs and then we got into the pandemic and the stories of people not having water to wash their hands,” said Laurie Wheelock, assistant general counsel for the Public Utility Law Project. “We didn’t know at the time if it was safe for people to leave the house and go to the store to buy water, so we worked very hard with the community and all elected officials to make sure you could find a way to bring the stories to come.
Wheelock urged people to tell their stories and contact their hotline with any issues at (800) 342-3377.
“When I first moved here, the idea of water being private property kind of blew my mind,” said Brittany Drive resident Phyllis Bloom. “Since I have been here for about four and a half years, there have been multiple breakdowns in the infrastructure, often reported by many people. These are dressing breaks. Every time there’s a break, it’s just kind of fixed over and over and over again the same way… If he (Fuller) has to dig your driveway, in the case of multiple people here, that’s at your expense, not his, to fix the driveway,” Bloom said. “There were times when he provided us with water in jugs…like water stations, and I live in a condo. For most of that time it’s a more population Dragging around to get the water he provided isn’t exactly a simple thing and it doesn’t quite meet your needs, frankly.
Dover Court resident Angela Gaudioso said she had experienced at least 10 outages or low pressure issues since 2020. Often the issues occur during holidays.
The final problem is high copper levels, an indication that water is corroding pipes. Fuller said he addressed the issue in late 2020.
“Our copper is not only high again, but it is higher than before, in some cases twice as high. And a neighbor or two that I know [have] three times the EPA regulatory limit. It’s just not acceptable,” Gaudioso said.
Hurley Councilwoman Jana Martin, also a customer of the Hudson Valley Water Company, said Fuller could not be convinced to do the right thing. “I think the bottom line, from my point of view, is that unfortunately you cannot bring this man into compliance. You can not do it. He has no respect for these customers. He has no respect for people’s health,” Martin said. “His business model is to sit down on Long Island and just send these weird, arbitrary, punitive bills that are generally fake and refuse to take any kind of no for an answer.”
Barbara Lubow is responsible for 21 condominium units at 48 Brittany Drive. “As a property manager, I am responsible for people having their water and heating. And what happened this year is when the electricity went out there was no water and they don’t have a generator,” she said of the water company.
The boiler needs a constant supply of water, so without water there is no heat, she explained.
“So what happened after four or five days, many, many pipes broke. The apartments were destroyed,” Lubow said. “I had asked Mr. Fuller last year, I called and spoke to him personally. I asked can you get a generator. At least we will have water if there is no electricity. He said it was expensive I said yes, it’s expensive, but the damage that is done when you don’t have it costs more.
Carolyn Winters was one such co-owner whose unit suffered extensive damage.
“I have the duplex on the second and third floors, and the entire ceiling on the first floor, which is my living room, got soaked. The floor was supposed to be totally filled with water.
Winters said she was not reimbursed for the cost of the $3,000 to $4,000 repairs, and that was after a much more expensive major renovation. “I spent $40,000 and then it happened, so it’s just pathetic the way people are treated.”
“No water should be a for-profit business,” said Normandy Court resident Melissa Gibson.
“It’s not just Mr. Fuller’s problem. It’s a problem with how the whole setup is. It should not be privatized, and if there are ways out, they should be explored alongside holding Mr. Fuller accountable.
Hurley Councilman Mike Boms asked Hinchey to take over the districts from the Hudson Valley Water Company. “We would like to know how to do this because it is the only way to replace and maintain this water (the system). We have many complaints from the townspeople. I hear things from Rosendale. I hear things from Boiceville and Saugerties. It’s crazy,” Boms said. “This man in 1996 bought 444 homes for $11,500… For $11,500, he collects $400 a quarter from 440 residents, and yet he doesn’t do any repairs.”
High Falls, Rosendale, Saugerties
In the High Falls Park subdivision, the hydrants served by the Hudson Valley Water Company have become so unreliable that the High Falls Fire Department cannot rely on them, said Rosendale Assistant Supervisor Ken Hassett. And just like the other districts controlled by Fuller, there is no backup power.
“When the lights go out, more than 100 homes in High Falls Park have no water. It is the only water supply system in our immediate area that does not have a backup generator system. We have two other independent water systems in the town of Rosendale and they both have backup generators,” he said.
Things aren’t much better in the Saugerties community of Mt. Marion, where the Hudson Valley Water Company serves 229 homes.
Residents are told to write their water meter number on a postcard and send it to the company, but their bill reflects something different.
“When I received my bills, I noticed that the numbers on the bills showing the water meter reading did not match what I had. He puts down whatever he wants,” said Mt. Marion Park resident Joanne Dunlap.
She doesn’t trust water enough to drink it, but Dunlap uses it in the bathroom.
“I brush my teeth with it and when you put your head in the sink it smells like swamp. It smells of fish. It’s disgusting. We have to pay for it. They should put up a big sign that says don’t buy here because the water sucks.