Could stream bank bill top $16 million?


By Jim Poole

Schoharie County Treasurer Bill Cherry believes county taxpayers may be liable for $16 million––or more––on the troubled stream bank project.
But Cobleskill Supervisor Leo McAllister doesn’t agree at all.
Mr. Cherry charged last week that the stream bank project, described as erosion control on four tributaries to Schoharie Creek, could plague county finances for a decade.
Started in 2012, the project was intended to have the county reimbursed by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
But NRCS in 2015 insisted that work by the engineer, AECOM, was unacceptable, and NRCS would not reimburse Schoharie County.
Now, having borrowed money to pay contractors, the county owes $16.8 million, Mr. Cherry said last week.
He also believes that if the project continues, the county will have to pay to correct the “unacceptable” work already done.
“We’re going to owe $25 million with nothing to show for it,” Mr. Cherry said.
He’s also concerned that the Board of Supervisors discusses the stream bank project only in private sessions.
A special supervisors’ meeting last week was behind closed doors, Mr. Cherry pointed out.
Such privacy is necessary, according to County Administrator Steve Wilson and Mr. McAllister, because of possible litigation.
“Everyone’s lawyered up,” Mr. Wilson said, pointing to AECOM, NRCS, DEC and even the county itself.
Mr. McAllister, who also chairs the county’s Finance Committee, feels the county may be liable for some expenses but argued that the only way to avoid the full costs is to see the project completed.
“What would you do?” he asked. “Have to pay back $16 or $17 million and have four people suing you? We’d be in court forever.”
DEC and AECOM must agree on how to proceed on the project, “and that’s what’s been going on for the last three months,” Mr. McAllister said.
He credited Mr. Wilson with bringing the disagreeing parties together for negotiations.
DEC and AECOM, Mr. McAllister added, must agree on what to do and how to get the project done.
And if the project is finished properly, the reimbursements will come and the county may not have to pay for corrective work.
“The project must be completed to everyone’s satisfaction,” Mr. McAllister said. “This isn’t rocket science. This isn’t bluster. It’s just the facts.”
Mr. Cherry feels his version of the facts is closer to the truth.
“My opinion isn’t worth a hill of beans,” he said. “It’s the facts that matter. This is going to weigh the county down for the next 10 years.”