Feds say they'll cover stream work; Cherry not convinced


By Jim Poole

Despite the fears of some, Schoharie County taxpayers won't be liable for millions of dollars for the streambank project, federal officials said last week.
Engineers for the Natural Resources Conservation Service vowed their agency will stick with the project that's lasted for years and has costs approaching $30 million.
But county Treasurer Bill Cherry, who raised concerns about the project last week, called NRCS assurances "bureaucratic doublespeak."
NRCS is providing the funding for the work on four tributaries to Schoharie Creek. Under an agreement, the county pays contractors, and NRCS reimburses the county.
Two recent letters from NRCS to the county apparently end that agreement. Obtained by the Times-Journal, the letters order the county to "cease and desist" all streambank work.
Mr. Cherry interprets NRCS's stance that taxpayers may have to pay more than $10 million the county has borrowed to pay contractors for past work--without NRCS reimbursement.
Gregory Kist, a conservationist with NRCS, said Mr. Cherry is incorrect.
Asked whether NRCS is still committed to the project, Mr. Kist responded, "Absolutely."
He agreed that NRCS ended the current agreement but said that's only because a new agreement is in the works.
To reach that new agreement, the county must meet three requirements: have permits in place from the state and the Army Corps of Engineers; have a remediation plan to fix faulty work on streams; and address those violations.
"Our big concern is that some of the work already done is not according to design specifications," Mr. Kist said.
When the county meets the three requirements, Mr. Kist said, "We will get a new agreement."
Mr. Cherry isn't buying the explanation.
"If Mr. Kist or NRCS is telling the T-J that as long as the county complies, they're still fully behind this, that sounds like bureaucratic doublespeak," he said.
"If everything's so great, show me the money. Why aren't we getting the money?"
Mr. Kist, however, countered that because some of the past stream work wasn't done according to specs, NRCS won't pay for it.
"We can't provide funding for work that violates federal standards," he said.
The county hopes to have a new agreement in place by June 15, which Mr. Kist called "overly aggressive." However, he was confident the two sides would eventually reach an agreement so that work and payments could proceed.
Jeremy Call, another NRCS spokesman, agreed with Mr. Kist, adding that "there's no reason to think this is not going to happen.
"It's not NRCS's intent to walk away from any conservation on the land," Mr. Call added.
And again, Mr. Kist stressed his agency's commitment:
"We want to protect those streams that may impact homes, bridges and roads. We will do everything in our power to help the county."