By now, you know it’s happened. Niagara Bottling has pulled out. The company has apparently decided it’s just too much trouble to come here to produce bottled water. The organized (if not always fair or even-handed) opposition, spearheaded by Rebecca Martin and her kingstoncitizens.org, was just too loud, too in-your-face. Striking on every front, they amassed ferocity and force. Booing and harassing speakers on behalf of the proposal, they over-filled Kingston City Hall and Ulster Town Hall, turning half-hour public speaking sessions into four hour marathon circus meetings. At one point, Woodstock Town Supervisor, playwright Jeremy Wilber, went to the Kingston podium under a standing ovation. Before saying a word, he took off his trademark fedora, spread his arms wide, slowly turned to the crowd, and took a deep ringmaster bow, drinking in the cheering audience. It was performance.
Judging by self-identification of the speakers, kingstoncitizens.org is made up of about ten people from the Woodstock area to every one from Kingston. Martin did claim, though, that kingstoncitizens.org is made up of the nearly 25,000 residents of Kingston, so it would have been nice to hear from a few more of those.
From where I sit, it looks like the process was hijacked by a high-powered lobbying group. They claim they only wanted a seat at the table. Well, you don’t get that by flipping the table over.
They got the result they were after, but at a cost. Along with Niagara Bottling, we have lost some valuable opportunities. By saying “No way, No how,” right from the outset, we’ve raised a red flag to all sorts of businesses that might want to consider this as a place to locate. By shouting “Keep your hands off of our water!”, Woodstock has blown an opportunity to partner with their neighbors. By telling us that “Our water is a shared resource, and should never be for sale”, they have narrowed the definitions of both “shared” and “resource”.
One thing not lost to Woodstock was the $300,000 in taxes that Kingston pays to the Town and School Districts every year on the land and right of way that our water uses.* Also not lost was the fact that Kingston Water Department ratepayers still cover 100% of the costs of repair, maintenance, and improvements to the 1000 acre watershed, mostly in the town of Woodstock. Living in that town, you can fish in our water, walk around our reservoir, and tap it with your wells. It looks as though some folks are “sharing” great benefit, yet very little burden.
We’ve seen it before. They fought to keep out cell towers. They fought against sharing safety net costs. The long fight to keep out the eco-friendly Woodstock Commons comes to mind. Keep the low income people out of Woodstock because Woodstock can’t give up the land, can’t handle the traffic, can’t take the construction, can’t afford the extra people. A major theme in that fight returned in this; Woodstock can’t have outsiders using “their” water.
It makes me wonder if their objections aren’t far more basic than Kingston’s use of shared resources. Maybe it’s a sort of elitist class-ism that makes one group want to dictate to the rest of us. Maybe it’s the kind of bumper sticker compassion that really wants to help, as long as it costs nothing, like retweeting a slogan. Maybe it’s as simple as Not In My Back Yard.
To be clear, I hadn’t yet decided if I was for or against the plant. I never got the chance. I wanted a fair and complete hearing to see what they or any potential business partner could do for Kingston and Ulster County. Niagara would have had to pay millions for the studies, the environmental impact statements, the work to figure out their draws on our systems, and what they could do to improve them. Those opportunities are down the drain. Some leaders of the opposition have claimed in the aftermath that they only wanted to go through the complete process. What they showcased in public, what they put up on the marquee is, SHUT THE WHOLE THING DOWN! Barring that, they vowed to bottleneck the “process”, making it so onerous to Niagara that they would just stop and go away.
Well, the plant’s gone away, but where do we go from here? Is it all water under the bridge? We’ve got to do better than “get the money somewhere else”. “Somewhere else” is us, the ratepayers of the Kingston Water Department. If the folks who gave us all of the cons (with none of the pros) want to kick in a few extra bucks on their water bills to help us out, that might be a good first step, but that’s not going to happen, either.
Is the way things are the way we want them to be? Do the quieter Kingston citizens have to shout to be heard? We can decide the face we want to show to all potential investors in our community is a rational one. We have to shape our future, not fear a change. We can carefully consider all of the choices ahead, or we can listen to every Chicken Little that runs through.
Kingston’s experience with water companies has been positive. We are fortunate to have a local, family owned water company, right here in the heart of the city. Binnewater Ice and Spring Water has been doing business and paying taxes here for over 100 years. Binnewater have been good neighbors. I live three blocks away, and hardly know they are there. They deliver all over the region. Can those that buy water, ice, coffee, and firewood buy it from them? Good golly, they even make snow. Would it make sense for Kingston and the company to explore a partnership with some of our good local tap water? It would have a bigger positive impact environmentally and economically, and be far easier to accomplish, to buy local bottled water than it has been to say bottled water is bad. What ideas can we come up with that enhance life here?
I’ve often heard it said that good environmental policy is good economic policy. If that’s true, then it’s reciprocal, and good economic policy is good environmental policy. I trust the people of Kingston to know when the two come together. How much better would it be if we let all the facts get out there. Once we have all of the facts, the good and the bad, we will make the right decision for us.
If we can’t come up with something better, can we at least listen as much as we advocate?
We cannot have the Kingston we want if we can’t change the Kingston we have.
*Kingston Water Department 10-14-2014.