“I had no clue on anything about sewer and water systems when I started,’’ said Kovalchik, the Village’s Deputy Mayor and a member of its Board of Trustees. “This is something that has been in our comprehensive plan for nearly 50 years. I thought it was something we should get started on.”
Kovalchik started working on the project about 11 years ago. He was chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals for 14 years before getting elected to the Board of Trustees in 2007.
Kovalchik thought the community had the issue resolved five years ago. But the project failed at a referendum by a 2-1 vote. Most opponents felt the $8.1 million project -- the town would have been responsible for $4.5 million -- was too costly and would drive up taxes. “I was surprised at the result because of the outreach we had done,’’ Kovalchik said. “We didn’t calculate the organizational power of the opposition. Immediately after it got defeated I thought about finding a new plan.”
He said the new plan will be far less costly and disruptive to businesses. It will feature a STEP system, which will allow some property owners to use existing septic tanks. Most of the septic tanks will be replaced with new Department of Health compliant tanks.
A pump will take liquid waste from the tanks to a low pressure sanitary sewer system. The first phase will cover the Village’s commercial district and is expected to cost $4.9 million, Kovalchik said. The Board of Trustees has approved a bond resolution and it is trying to secure other financing options. If the project gets approved, Kovalchik is hoping construction can begin late next year. It could benefit 280 business and residential units.
Kovalchik outlined three reasons why the project could benefit Red Hook residents. Most importantly, he said, it will protect the area’s drinking water.
“The village is built on top of an aquifer and there’s a chance of contamination from on-site septic systems,’’ Kovalchik said. “It could infiltrate the groundwater. This project will help prevent any catastrophic contamination.”
Kovalchik said a new system would also benefit local businesses. Restaurants are limited in size, he said, because of small septic systems. “A restaurant wanted to come into the Village but could only get 13 seats,’’ he said. “The restaurant went to a nearby community and got 35 seats. We have to preserve what businesses we have, but we also have to get more variety.”
He also believes a hotel could be built in the Village with the addition of an upgraded sewer system, which could attract more tourists.
Finally, Red Hook and other nearby communities are encouraging new development in priority growth districts to help protect agricultural fields and farming. “It would put growth near existing and/or emerging commercial centers where it will be able to take advantage of the the Village's infrastructure, provide for a more vibrant, walkable community and help us with our tax base,’’ Kovalchik said.
An architect by trade, Kovalchik said his professional career helped him understand the process. “Infrastructure is not our thing,’’ said Kovalchik, who designs high end residential estate[s] in the United States and Europe. “The process of designing, informing the client, in this case Red Hook residents, how it would work and how it will be built are similar to the process in architecture.”
Kovalchik has immersed himself in the community through other organizations as well. He served on The Town of Red Hook Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board, Red Hook Area Chamber of Commerce, Inter-municipal Task Force and Red Hook Community Arts Network. Other committees include: Saw Kill Watershed Community, Red Hook Together, Economic Development Committee, Village Green Committee and Zoning Review Committee. As the Deputy Mayor, he assumes the town’s leadership role when Mayor Ed Blundell travels out of state.
“I’ve always felt it’s good to be involved in your community,’’ said Kovalchik, a native of Ohio. “And a lot of these boards I’ve served on are inter-related. I saw opportunities where I could get involved. It helps each other’s project if you know what other board are doing.”
Kovalchik hears carping from some residents and occasionally feels the frustration involved with small town politics. But he also loves his community and the neighbors that make it a special place to live.
“The most enjoyable part is the people,’’ Kovalchik said. “It’s a nice, family-oriented friendly community. Three years ago, my wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and for the next three months, we didn’t have to do any cooking. The neighbors just kept bringing us food. It’s a tremendously caring community.”
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