In what seemed to be an attempt to provide the Village Board with cover from the political storm—ensued by two separate incidents of major flooding in January 2006 at the Croton-Harmon train station commuter parking lot—Croton Republican Committee affiliate Robert Wintermeier appeared at the podium during the regularly scheduled Village Board meeting on February 6, 2006 to express his “confusion about some of the positions he has heard regarding flooding down at the parking lot”.
However, his question was met with fourteen seconds of silence from the Board, of which Mr. Wintermeier described as “deafening”.
Breaking the awkward pause in the meeting—was Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt—who responded after a chuckle by saying, “I stand at where, what I said before…” but was interrupted by Mr. Wintermeier—who assured himself that the Mayor will speak at greater length in an upcoming work session. From there, Trustee Leo Wiegman offered his opinion—reflective of a recent post on Crotonblog (see: “Flooding Solution for Croton Harmon Train Station Parking Lot Mothballed by Schmidt, Brennan and Steinberg”)—and soon found himself in an emotionally charged dispute with Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt, Trustees Thomas Brennan and Jim Steinberg over the impact of flooding remediation and a sum of $850,000 that was cut from the 2005 budget—which was earmarked for the first of a three-step parking lot improvement plan.
Video transcript start:
Robert Wintermeier; “I’m here because its election time and I’m a little confused by some of the positions I’ve heard regarding flooding down at the parking lot.” …”So, What I’d like for you guys to do tonight is tell me what’s the answer? Did we have money allocated, number one? And, is it the way I describe it, for the main road and over to the railroad station or was it just for aesthetic purposes? I don’t know the answer. I’m looking for you guys to help me out?”
Robert Wintermeier; “The silence is deafening.”
Trustee Leo Wiegman; “To put it plainly there was an amount in the budget for improvements to the parking lot—for this year which would have been built by now—that would have created a less of a traffic snarl in front of the station and would have improved the traffic access and traffic flow as step one. Step two is the page 14 or early page of this station report you refer to where the parking flooding problem was a particular item that the transit oriented district study you refer to would look at. The reason it was looked at up front is because we knew it was a problem and therefore any further work beyond unsnarling the traffic at the station would have looked at raising the grade there or the solution is to move the cars off of that two acres that is only, less than three feet above high tide.”
Robert Wintermeier; “But the point is, you know that’s a four million dollar project. That’s what we paid for the original, in fact that’s for 200 spaces, $20,000 per space”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt; “I’m sorry, you know what? We’re not going to get into an argument here. The Transit Oriented Study was just that, a study to look at what the possibilities were down there looking at it as it’s a piece of property. What else could you do down there? The study came back with three different options, none of which the Board at that time were willing to go down because financially they just did not meet any needs of the Village at this time in terms of the cost.
Trustee Jim Steinberg; ”They’re all significant capital outlays also.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt; “Right”
Robert Wintermeier; “I don’t want to minimize that but what I wanted to do is get this particular point clear. That would not have fixed the flood problem for the cars that we’re complaining about. In fact, I watched the USS DPW go down through that road the other day and that was unbelievable to see the water going aside. There was a DPW truck coming out that was also swamped. You know, its not a good place. And that would have been beneficial but it was not going to affect those people with parking permits. That’s what I’m after.
Trustee Jim Steinberg; ”Bob, if I could add too. The most recent work session was the first time that the Board sought to address the flooding issue this year. It wasn’t done earlier.
Robert Wintermeier; “That’s what I concluded and I’m sorry go ahead.”
Trustee Jim Steinberg, ”That’s okay. And that, what we did at that meeting, at that work session was to request from our consultants, engineers, what can we do—as the Mayor has stated before—in the short, medium and long term to remediate that particular problem. The $850,000 figure was as it was identified in the capital improvement plan when we go through the budget process early on was Item H. and it was the design plans including lighting, walkways, improvement of traffic flow, Fencing and landscaping. And that proposal at the time was scheduled to be completed this summer, the summer of 2006. Alternately, we asked the consultant engineer to come back with a second, with a reduction of that $850,000/$900,000 project to a lower figure project and before that final project could be dependent, ah, voted on if you will, or considered part of the capital project it was actually withdrawn as a proposal based on everything else going on. But I, I’m not going to hide behind the fact that, what was on the table at the first budget session I looked at, I sat in on was not going to address the flooding as it has occurred this past Winter. And we’re doing something about it now.
Robert Wintermeier; “I didn’t think that anybody expected that Jim and I’ll tell you this is the first time that I, my concern also is that I don’t mind spending money but it should really be on the infrastructure and my concern here was that this is the first time that I’ve seen a real engineering study and the guy who was there was very impressive. I’m sure nobody had any complaints. He was talking about dykes, but the water backs up instead of having the tide come in, the dike holds the water that runs down the hill and you got the same problem. Then he talked about tanks underneath, you know, catch basins. He had a lot of good ideas. I have never seen that discussed before. I really look forward to hearing what he’s got to say when he comes back and I think this is long overdue. And I commend you for doing that what you’re there. I just want to get behind the spin as far as I’m concerned.”
Trustee Tom Brennan; “Bob, can I say one thing on this there? I just to say that there’s been some misinformation about there that the money that was taken out of the budget for the upgrades at the train station this year, okay, would’ve had nothing to do with anything with the flooding problem that comes from the tidal surges. Nothing. It wasn’t included. It was esthetics, like you said, West of the problem. So the misinformation going on about us cutting any money out of the budget, the Board, hurting the upgrades at the train station is totally false and not true. So, it’s in the paperwork.”
Robert Wintermeier; “I’ll talk some more about this particular plan next, at the next meeting. I have some other concerns about that but I thank you for your comments.”
Trustee Tom Brennan; “Thank you Mr. Wintermeier”
Trustee Leo Wiegman; “With all due respect, the money for the parking lot was cut out of the budget at the 11th hour for politically expedient purposes. That sent a message to our commuters…”
Trustee Tom Brennan; “Leo, that’s your opinion…”
Trustee Leo Wiegman; “Excuse me, that sent a message to our commuters that we’re going to, we’re not going to raise your rates 5%, we’re going to raise them 12.5%. And we’re not going to fix the parking lot. So, I have to say that when commuters knew the flooding was going on and was going to be a problem, had experienced it this past month, it was worse that usual. I can understand their being upset. The reason, perhaps, that Mr. Wintermeier didn’t know about these potential solutions is that he may have missed all of the sessions that we’ve had with our storm water consultants and that we’ve had also with Buckhurst Fish & Jacquemart Inc. over that went into making the Transit Oriented Study where we told Buckhurst Fish & Jacquemart our main concern is that if we don’t fix the flooding, nothing else is worth doing. To fix the flooding, you build a garage. To build a garage, you have to untangle the parking first. So, Step 1. was doing the Cherbuliez Munz, untangling the parking, creating lanes so you disentangle where buses come, commuters come, pedestrians. Then, the second piece of that is what the Buckhurst Fish team had sketched out. That’s a one, two, three, four incremental step and all of that was basically put on ice, put on the shelf, mothballed and not even actually read in any detail by any of you.”
Trustee Jim Steinberg; ”Oh, oh, I object to that! Not read in any detail? We take our jobs very seriously here. Do not question our integrity about how we look into things. This is the first time there has been any conversation to what you guys believed the importance of what that Transit Oriented study was. We never got into the depths of that conversation at any of the work sessions with regard to that report. And in fact, the entire Board didn’t want to move forward with any of those proposals because of their capital outlay costs. We concurred as a group that they were too expensive at that time. And that’s revisionist history to say otherwise with regard to that.”
Trustee Tom Brennan; “Not only that, what happened with the Riverwalk as it ended up with what was gonna happen with the County was being put on a shelf anyway. So it worked in the long run that we didn’t have the money in the budget to spend. We took it out. We saved the taxpayers money. We still have the $500,000 in the bank when a plan comes up that we can move forward with and that’s the bottom line. The moneys still there and when we can move forward with it, I think we will.”
Trustee Leo Wiegman; “I’m sorry that you’re upset Jim, but…”
Trustee Leo Wiegman; “It came up at a work session.”
Trustee Jim Steinberg; ”I’m not upset, I just don’t like someone not accurately reflecting the facts of what’s transpired. That’s my issue.”
Trustee Leo Wiegman; “We discussed this study about the Transit Oriented District which was going to address flooding among other issues…”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt; “Trustee, Trustee, Trustee Wiegman, Trustee Wiegman! That was not the basis of the Transit Oriented study. Please stop referring to it as that. It was a possibility study. It was a study to look at what else could be done down there as a big picture. Could you put housing down there? Please! You stated it specifically that you would love to see housing down there so people could literally live there and commute from there. And that was what the study was all about. To look at possibilities down there and that’s what the study was about. It had nothing really to do with addressing the flooding down there and may I remind you how long have you sat on this Board and how long have you and your cohort been in charge of this Village and how long has the flooding been going on that you and the previous Mayor did not address, did not step out to do and that’s where we’ll leave it right now.”
Trustee Charlie Kane; “I take exception to that.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt; “You Charlie were not a part of that. We are as a Board are committed to moving forward to fixing the problems down there and fixing the problems short term. Long term and whatever it takes to do it and that’s what we are committing to right now. And that’s where the conversation is staying. You’re either on-board or you’re off-board with fixing the problems down there! If you’re off-board, that’s fine. It’s your decision. But right now, I know that there are people who are committed to fixing the problems down there. Can we move on to?”
Trustee Leo Wiegman; “And I commend you on your new found awareness of this issue, but the techno, geo-technical study that was done by Buckhurst Fish was cited in that report. The report that the Transit Oriented District study knew it had to tackle the height of the water for any use at that site. That was why it was part of the report.”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt; “For any use at that site.”
Trustee Leo Wiegman; “Pardon me?”
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt; “For any use at that site.”
Trustee Leo Wiegman; “For any use at that site, we had to solve the tidal issue and there are a number of ways to do that.
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt; “And were you comfortable with spending any an mount of money to fix the problem down there? To fix the problem to create something else down there? Were you in favor? No. No. You made your comments at. You, you.”
Trustee Leo Wiegman; “You allowed the Chair of that committee to present for 15 minutes at a work session in the dead of summer and then mothballed it.
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt; “Because, it was not financially viable on any level and that was the conclusion of everybody at that meeting. With that, we move on. Thank you Mr. Wintermeier. Anyone else?
Robert Wintermeier; “I wanted to get some answers on that”.
Mayor Dr. Gregory Schmidt; “I hope you did”.
Video transcript end: