The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has withdrawn its participation in the proposed Phoenicia sewer project, rejecting the Shandaken Town Board’s request for an extension of the deadline to establish a local sewer district. In a letter to Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley, dated June 1, DEP commissioner Carter H. Strickland, Jr., stated that the $15.8 million block grant that has been reserved for the Phoenicia sewer for the past 15 years will be released to other towns, and that the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) “intends to terminate its contract” with Shandaken.

In his letter to the town, Strickland noted that the city has spent $1.9 million over the past 15 years to study and design a wastewater treatment plant for Phoenicia, granting several timeframe extensions, as the community considered various options.

“However,” he wrote, “with many missed milestones for action by the Town of Shandaken, it has now become clear that the community is not prepared to take the concrete steps necessary to advance a project to completion…While we view this outcome as unfortunate, DEP can no longer justify reserving funds for a wastewater treament plant (WWTP) for Phoenicia.”

The letter concludes with an expression of willingness to continue working with the town on “stream restoration projects, our septic program, and enforcement of watershed regulations.”

Town board members were apparently surprised, and the June 1 letter apparently was not discussed at the council’s June 4 meeting. Town council member Alfie Higley declined to comment until he had a chance to read Strickland’s letter. Supervisor Rob Stanley was not available for comment, nor was board member Jack Jordan.

But community reactions were immediate.

“It’s totally idiotic on the Town of Shandaken’s part,” said Declan Feehan, owner of Phoenicia Wines and Liquors and the property formerly occupied by the Phoenicia Hotel. “They totally dropped the ball on dealing with the sewer system. Last I heard there were eight letters of violation from the DEP for businesses along Main Street for their septic systems — including mine. I don’t have enough property behind the liquor store for a leach field.”