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SUNY New Paltz orders students to leave campus amid water concerns

New reports state that the local water supply

New reports state that the local water supply in New Paltz may be unsafe, officials said. Credit: Newsday/William Perlman

Students at upstate SUNY New Paltz have been ordered off the campus until Sunday in the wake of reports that the local water supply may be unsafe, officials said Tuesday.

“As we continue to await water test results, some of which will not be available until later this week, and out of an abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our students, the College has decided to cancel all classes that begin at 3:30 p.m. or later today, Tuesday, Feb. 11, and continuing at least until Saturday, Feb. 15,” read a statement posted on the school’s website.

It goes further to say that administrators are "mandating" that all 3,550 resident students leave campus by noon Wednesday while advising international students, and those who have no place to go, to seek help in relocating to temporary housing from officials in the residence halls and international student program.

The exodus comes as the Village of New Paltz on Monday issued an alert reporting a “smell and taste problem in our water,” which local news reports said was similar to kerosene or gasoline. At that time, village officials urged residents to avoid using the water, but later postings said the water was likely safe to use for bathing, washing clothes and cleaning.

But by 6 p.m. Tuesday, the eighth Water Advisory Update said state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation officials had taken samples of the water at various locations, including a water treatment plant, to determine the source of the problem.

“The NYS DOH and DEC are currently investigating reports of a sheen identified this morning at the village reservoirs on the Mountain Rest Road water treatment plant property,” the latest note said.

Late Tuesday, a statement from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said: "DEC and Village officials have isolated the likely cause of the sheen observed on Reservoir #4 to a compromised underground fuel line for the village's water treatment plant heating system. ... The village has bypassed this reservoir while investigations of the drinking water supply continue and sampling results are analyzed."  

The earlier advisory listed locations at village hall and several apartment complexes where residents could get water.

First-year New Paltz student Lauryn Fenigstein, 18, of Islip, said the fact that the college sent mixed signals was “anxiety-producing.”

She said it was unnerving to receive emails and texts at first saying avoid the water, then follow-up messages saying it was OK to wash in the water, and then an alert mandating evacuation.

“It went from precautionary to full-blown investigation over the course of 24 hours,” said the psychology major, who said some classmates reported feeling nauseated after drinking water just before the advisory was issued.

Still, she said, the evacuation is probably a good thing since officials can root out the problem without jeopardizing the campus community’s safety.

“I definitely think it’s better that we’re all going home so we know that everything we’re doing is safe,” she said. “It’s affecting the whole Village of New Paltz … Removing that many people from campus is going to make it easier for the village to fix it.”

Although the college was ordered closed, the advisory noted that secondary, middle and elementary schools in the New Paltz Central School District would be in session.

“New Paltz Central School District: all schools will reopen on the usual schedule tomorrow,” the advisory said.

Interim Superintendent Bernard Josefsberg on Tuesday wrote to parents and the community that DEC and Ulster County health officials had tested the water at some school locations and determined “test results provided no concerns about reopening our schools.”

He added that bottled water would be available for students and staff during the school day.

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