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State Department of Health cancels meetings with Auburn officials for Owasco Lake protection

The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) has unexpectedly canceled two consecutive meetings with the City of Auburn aimed at discussing rules and regulations for safeguarding Owasco Lake and its watershed. The cancellations have left city officials concerned that future communication with the state on this matter may need to occur through legal channels.

Seth Jensen, who serves as Director of Municipal Utilities, informed city council on Thursday that this week’s scheduled meeting was called off with less than 24 hours’ notice. He expressed his frustration with the situation, noting that when he reached out to the NYSDOH staff member responsible for this matter, he received a call back from their legal counsel instead. Jensen said that the legal counsel apologized for the abrupt cancellation, acknowledging it as unprofessional behavior.

The meeting cancellations occurred after both Auburn and Owasco agreed to engage EarthJustice, an environmental law group, to represent them in their efforts to replace Owasco Lake’s current Rules and Regulations with updated ones. Auburn Corporation Counsel Nate Garland suggested that the NYSDOH’s decision to cancel the meetings could be linked to their awareness of EarthJustice’s involvement in the case, although this remains his personal opinion.

In February, State Senator Rachel May, who represents the district that includes Owasco Lake and its watershed, questioned the NYSDOH’s plans to update the Rules and Regulations. Acting Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald assured her that the process would recommence within the next three months. However, given the recent meeting cancellations, the timeline for these crucial discussions remains uncertain.