The head of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection has turned down a request from the Westchester County executive to move toward opening a road that was closed after the 9/11 attacks.
Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer sent a letter to the commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection concerning the reopening of Kensico Dam Road over Kensico Dam.
“This letter merely requests the DEP to allow us to put together a plan so that we can then present it to them and then have the natural give and take that goes into any sort of a proposal," Latimer says.
“We have not discussed anything with our federal friends yet. This is a matter where we need the approval to go forward,” says Latimer. “If we do get the approval to go forward, we will then reach out to those in the federal government to ask for their input and their advice in putting this plan together, and treat them and consult with them as partners. And, of course, we’re going to include the state of New York.”
But in a letter back March 5, DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza rejected the idea, saying there is no circumstance under which the agency would consider allowing a proposal to put vehicles on the road. DEP cites a risk to the water supply and to the public safety of those near the dam. The road had been closed for security reasons following September 11, to protect millions of gallons of drinking water to New York City. Kensico Dam Road is now open only as a recreation path for walkers, joggers and cyclists. Latimer says 18 years later, it’s time to reopen the roadway to vehicles, on a limited basis.
“But we believe we can accomplish both goals, which is to ensure the security of the dam and, as well, open up a traffic process that is essential for emergency services and we think as well for the general population within very set parameters,” Latimer says.
“Some of the elements of the plan may be certainly the continued closure of the road during nighttime hours. We do not expect it to be open at night when it would be very hard to police it properly,” says Latimer. “There would clearly be a prohibition of trucks, vans, buses and any oversized vehicles. We would look at what would be the most practical way to limit those hours of operations, and we would consult with our traffic professionals as well as our police professionals in both towns and in the county, and talk to the elected officials in both communities to determine what are the most critical times that this would have to be open.”
Latimer contends reopening the road would provide traffic relief to the residents and businesses of the Town of Mount Pleasant, the Town of North Castle and the City of White Plains. Conservative Westchester County Board of Legislators Minority Leader Margaret Cunzio has been calling for the limited reopening of the road for years.
“I have the privilege of representing both the Towns of North Castle and Mount Pleasant that directly connect to this road,” Cunzio says. “And my experience as the previous chair of public safety for two years prior to this term and my current term as vice chair of public safety, I feel that this is a necessity for emergency services purposes.”
Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi supports the limited reopening of the road, also citing the need to provide access to emergency services and alleviate traffic. Last year, DEP announced construction on a $5 million project to improve the flow of traffic and pedestrian safety at eight intersections near Kensico Dam. Sapienza’s letter cites the project, which came about because of changes in the aftermath of 9/11.