TOWN OF WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - When the Watertown Correctional Facility closes at the end of March, lawmakers say the state can’t just walk away. The prison provides water to 40 nearby homes.
At Watertown Correctional Facility, there’s more than prisoners and corrections officers.
There are obligations to keep the water flowing to nearby homes. On the prison grounds, there’s a water treatment facility.
It provides town water to the prison complex and, through an agreement struck in the 1980s, extends that water service to a nearby housing development, Boulder Ridge, where there are 40 homes.
State workers monitor the water, taking readings each day, making sure it’s safe to drink.
With the prison slated to close, state lawmakers don’t want New York to go back on a decades-old deal.
“You’ve got to make good the agreements that are made in this water district. And no matter what it takes, you have to fix it,” said Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush, (R. - 117th District).
Some folks who live at Boulder Ridge were surprised to learn where their water comes from, but remain confident something will be figured out.
“They just can’t shut it down. If they shut it down right now, everyone here would have no water, no sewer,” said Bobby Ferris, who lives at Boulder Ridge.
“I really don’t care. I’m sure I’m going to have water. I’m not going to worry about it,” said Tony, who lives at Boulder Ridge and didn’t want us to use his last name.
The state agrees: don’t worry. The Department of Corrections tells 7 News it’s aware of its water obligation and will keep water flowing to the homes as it looks for a long-term solution.
One fix: connect this water district with another, bypassing the prison. Town officials say that could cost $2 million. And who should pay?
“The state. There’s no question in my mind. They’re the ones we have the agreement with. They are closing a facility they shouldn’t be closing. It’s an obligation of the state of New York to make sure that that flows right. And if that costs them $2 million, it costs them $2 million,” said Blankenbush.
Another solution: state officials tell 7 News that New York could turn the prison water facility over to the town of Watertown.
Having the option of taking over the water assets at the prison may sound good, but what town officials will think about is how old the infrastructure is and how expensive fixes could be.
But if this could turn into a larger conversation about turning over the entire prison campus to the town, one western New York county administrator says that could be a step in the right direction.
“If you could somehow get in a controlling interest in a way for that property, to me, personally speaking, I think that’s a benefit to the community,” said Livingston County Administrator Ian Coyle.
Coyle’s county is home to a vacant prison being marketed by the state. He points out New York has a portfolio of empty prisons to be marketed and believes having local people in charge of redeveloping the land is a better option.
It’s something Blankenbush agrees with.
“Anything that’s local is better than state run,” he said.
Local officials have a meeting scheduled with state prison officials this week. A number of questions, including ‘what about the water,’ will undoubtedly come up.