Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed two state agencies on Monday to assist Amsterdam in finding a permanent solution to its ongoing sewer infrastructure problem along Forest Avenue.
In a released statement, Cuomo said he directed state officials from the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Facilities Corp. to “immediately meet” with Amsterdam officials to address a sewage discharge that started the morning of July 25 because of a broken sewer pipe somewhere along Forest Avenue.
Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa last Thursday said that crews were having trouble identifying the exact source of the leak, but knew its general location and were working to bypass the affected area. Villa said crews expected to have the leak bypassed by last Thursday night.
DEC spokesman Jomo Miller said the bypass was operating Saturday morning, July 30, eliminating any sewage discharge into the North Chuctanunda Creek. DEC estimated last week that the break was spilling 50 gallons of raw sewage per minute into the creek, which feeds into the Mohawk River. That would put the total spill from Monday to Saturday at an estimated 360,000 gallons.
Cuomo’s statement said the two agencies “will provide technical assistance while permanent repairs are completed.” The state will also be identifying potential funding options to help the city pay for the permanent fix.
Villa said July 26 that work being completed by outside contractors to stop the leak will cost $50,000 to $60,000. That number has been revised upwards to $100,000, prompting Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, to send a letter to Cuomo on July 28 seeking emergency state intervention.
“An immediate fix is a top priority and is estimated to cost $100,000 and a long-term solution is expected to cost several hundred thousand dollars more,” wrote Santabarbara in his letter to Cuomo. “Being a financially distressed community, this emergency situation has put considerable strain on the city’s budget.”
State Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, sent a similar letter requesting state assistance.
“I think it’s great, our state representatives have been extraordinary,” said Villa of the support he’s seen during the sewer crisis. “Infrastructure is a huge issue. Small cities just cannot afford to do these projects on our own.”
DEC’s Miller said the agency has been working closely with the city since news of the leak broke.
“DEC staff have visited the site every day since the leak began and will continue to do so as long as necessary,” Miller said.
Miller added that “a significant amount of the discharge that occurred during this event was groundwater.”
other sewer issues
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.
City officials previously said the funds for that overhaul are coming from a $5 million NYS Environmental Facilities Corp. loan, but that work on the overhaul won’t begin until next year.
Villa said at a recent council meeting that breakdowns in the city’s aged sewer system will continue to happen until the ovehaul is complete. On Tuesday he said he wants the overhaul to begin sooner than next year.
“I think we need to expedite the process and package that with whatever work we’re doing now,” he said of the $5 million sewer overhaul. “I think the sooner the better.”
Villa noted that these types of infrastructure issues are not unique to Amsterdam.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to be the ones to bring this to the spotlight but this is an issue that affects everyone,” said Villa. “Sure we’re talking about Amsterdam today, but DEC is going to be sitting in some other city talking about the same exact thing later on.”
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