For the second time this month, Amsterdam’s beleaguered wastewater treatment system has sprung a leak, spewing tens of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the ground near a creek that feeds the Mohawk River so far.
An alert on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s website said the most recent spill occurred Monday morning around 9:45 a.m. and was due to “a sewer line leaking into an adjacent creek area.”
The alert mentions North Chuctanunda Creek, which feeds into the Mohawk River. It also says the leak was due to a pipe break with an unknown cause, and lists 216 Forest Ave. as an approximate location of the discharge.
When contacted Tuesday afternoon, DEC said city officials have not yet determined the exact location or cause of the break. The agency did confirm that as of 4 p.m. Tuesday the leak was “ongoing” at an estimated 50 gallons per minute. That would add up to 90,000 gallons of untreated sewage in the first 30 hours.
At a council meeting Tuesday night, Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa said the city knows the general area where the leak is occurring on Forest Avenue and is working with two contractors to bypass that area and halt the discharge.
Villa said the leak should be fixed in a couple of days and will cost the city an estimated $50,000 to $60,000. He added that the leak is occurring underground and not directly into any waterway.
Villa cited the overall condition of the city’s aged sewer system as a reason for the leak, and said such issues are likely to continue to occur until the system’s overhaul next year.
“We have 100-year-old water lines,” said Villa in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting. “Right now it’s about mitigating anything that happens from now up until the actual upgrades take place.”
Villa said in prepared remarks during the council meeting: “This is a problem that has been going on for 40 to 50 years. We certainly are not going to be able to correct them today, tomorrow, next year. This is not the first, or the last, wastewater issue that we are going to face.”
Villa said he testified in front of the state Assembly about his belief that the state needs to set aside funds to assist small cities with their infrastructure needs, especially cities with financial difficulties.
In his remarks, Villa also criticized local news organizations, including The Daily Gazette, for what he considers unfair coverage of the city’s sewer problems.
“It’s simply impossible for us to address all the issues that we face, whether it be water, wastewater, foreclosures, demolitions,” said Villa. “I don’t mind facing the criticisms, but let’s balance the criticism with what steps have been taken to address the problems that we face, and this council has been proactive in addressing them.”
On July 13, 517,000 gallons of partially treated sewage spilled into the Mohawk River due to an equipment failure at the Westside Pump Station. In that leak, the sewage involved was listed as “partially treated without disinfection.”
Amsterdam Wastewater Treatment Plant Chief Operator Gene Hutchings said that in that spill solids were caught by the system’s filtration equipment but liquids were not, and they went into the river. Hutchings said another spill occurred June 30 for the same reason as the July 13 spill but that one lasted only 39 minutes.
Hutchings did not return a request for comment about Monday’s pipe break.
Amsterdam was hit with a $55,000 fine for five violations related to its sewer system in 2015 and 2016. Two of the violations were for unpermitted discharges that the DEC said occurred in February and May of this year.
City Engineer Richard Miller said last week the city is in the process of negotiating a reduction of the fine with DEC. He did not return a request for comment about Monday’s pipe break.
In December 2013 Amsterdam experienced a massive spill that dumped 24 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Mohawk River from two pumps over the span of eight days, according to the DEC.
That event led to the agency requiring the city to abide by a series of deadlines through 2017 to overhaul its sewer system or face penalties. Villa has said previously the overhaul is expected to begin next year, and will be paid for with a $5 million loan from the state Environmental Facilities Corp.
In the short term, Miller said last week, the city is waiting on the DEC before beginning a pump valve replacement project that will put an end to the overflows at the Westside Pump Station.
The work will require shutting the pumps off for two days, which will cause approximately 7 million gallons of sewage to spill into the Mohawk River. That sewage, said Miller, will be disinfected.
Villa said the city council approved a $160,000 resolution to pay for the that project.
Reach Gazette reporter Dan Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, [email protected] or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.
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