Town developing approach to solve sewer problems
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reached a settlement with Niskayuna over the town’s wastewater treatment plant exceeding capacity.
Niskayuna officials negotiated with DEC and were able to reduce the fine to $7,500 and suspend an additional $30,000 fine, which will be reinstated if the town fails to adhere to the order of consent. The residential building moratorium is still in place, which will stop any new residential connections to the sewer system if the town didn’t accept the project by Dec. 3. Through the negotiation, the date was pushed forward, which allowed for more substantial residential projects to move forward.
Based on the fact that they had already been received, we felt that it would be unfair to not allow those projects to proceed, said Rick Georgeson, spokesman for Region 4 of the DEC. `It says in the order they will not allow any new residential expansion increase in flow. They can make as many local approvals as they wish as long as anything is not hooked up to the system.`
Georgeson said almost every order issued by the DEC reaching an agreement goes through a negotiation period. Also, setting a large penalty amount is common to make sure the schedule of compliance is followed.
The town will have to submit the schedule of compliance, which is a report on how the town will address the problem, to the DEC by Jan. 18. The DEC then can approve or not approve the plan, but if it is denied, Georgeson said the DEC would tell the town what areas needed to be addressed before submitting a revised report.
He said the town has been very cooperative with DEC through the negotiating process.
`We’re very pleased with the resolution of this long-standing issue with Niskayuna’s sewer system,` said Gene Kelly, regional director for the DEC, in a statement. `We believe this order will put the town on the right path to solve these difficult [inflow and infiltration] problems.`
Inflow is storm water entering the sanitary sewer system through direct connection points, such as improper connections of sump pumps in residential homes. Infiltration is ground water that enters the sanitary sewer cracks in sewer pipes.
Councilman Jonathan McKinney said he thought the settlement reached was a good compromise.
`Of course we still have a lot of work to do, but we are headed in the right direction,` said McKinney. `My position from the beginning is we do not reinvest enough into our infrastructure.`
Any spending outside of the core functions over government will need to be looked at, said McKinney, with the town possibly having to make some tough funding decisions in the future.
Supervisor Joe Landry has previously stated he doesn’t think the cost of improvements will be significant for the town, but McKinney disagrees.
`It is going to be significant, ` said McKinney about the cost. `What you are looking at is in infrastructure that was designed to last 50 years, and we are at year 70 in some instances.`
With a logical plan, McKinney said, the town could be on its way to fixing the problem in five years.
McKinney said bringing the problem to the public allows them to be aware of it and make sure they are not a part of the problem. Niskayuna officials have repeatedly stated faulty residential connections to the sewer lines through sump pumps are real part of the problem.
`Right now it is an honor system and I think everyone needs to check if they have an illegal hook up,` said McKinney.
He did acknowledge and thank the sewer department for the hard work they’ve been and will be putting into solving the problem.
Every year since the original order of consent was issued in 2003 the town has been submitting reports to the DEC documenting what has been done in the town to reduce the inflow and infiltration problem. This was the first time the DEC has taken action against the town.
`I was a little bit surprised when I was informed last year that, ‘hey things are not going as quickly as we would like to see them done,` said Richard Pollock, superintendent for engineering at the town. `Was I surprised that a new person would say that they don’t like what they see ` not really. If an agency says we are going to have a greater priority on a certain point, or in this case I/I, then that stuff happens.`
Pollock said the report he will be submitting to the DEC has two purposes ` to meet DEC requirement and also trying to write it to provide information so everyone can start looking at the problem and understanding it. He said the report will have a lot of `meat` in it, so the novice can read and have an understanding too.
`The problem is going to take everybody working together to solve it,` said Pollock.
`There is going to be some tensions back and forth people are going to have different views on what is right and what is wrong.`
While Pollock said he doesn’t have a real idea for what the associated cost will be for the repairs, he does think there will be an increase in cost. He said there could be more than one technique used to try to correct the problem in the most cost effective manner.
`You need to figure out through economic analysis what the right blend of measures is,` said Pollock. `That is the real challenge, to figure out what is the optimum approach to solve this problem.“
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