Capital Region

Local leaders push for emergency water infrastructure funds

Officials say fixes often too costly for municipalities
Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa, speaking, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, left, and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy, on Monday.
Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa, speaking, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, left, and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy, on Monday.

When a water main or sewage pipe bursts, municipalities are often left scrambling to address the problem and fund repairs.

Oftentimes, implementing a temporary solution, such as a bypass, can only increase costs and damage in the long run, said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.

“These types of situations happen just about anywhere, and can happen anytime,” Santabarbara said. “They’re unexpected, so it’s hard to budget for things like this.”

In an effort to provide communities with immediate funding to tackle unexpected water infrastructure issues, Santabarbara is pushing a bill in the state Assembly that would establish the Emergency Water Infrastructure Repair Fund.

He was joined Monday by Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa, who spoke about how the emergency funding would ease the burden on cities and taxpayers.

When water infrastructure fails, Santabarbara said, it can lead to public health and environmental risks. Residents are forced to boil water before drinking it, burst pipes can cause sinkholes and rivers and streams can be polluted with untreated sewage, he said.

The Emergency Water Infrastructure Repair Fund would be funded by state budget allocations for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, a measure included in the governor’s proposed state budget that would invest $2 billion in statewide infrastructure improvements over the next five years.

The emergency fund would reserve 10 percent of that $2 billion, or $40 million per year, and make it more easily accessible for communities that encounter an unexpected water infrastructure issue. Santabarbara said he hopes to get the bill included in this year’s budget.

Santabarbara’s proposal is separate but in the same vein as legislation discussed two weeks ago by Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, and Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville.

Steck and Tedisco promoted their Safe Water Infrastructure Action Program legislation, or “S.W.A.P.,” which would provide a consistent stream of state funding to communities for water and sewer infrastructure.

The “S.W.A.P.” legislation would be aimed at addressing aging infrastructure before problems arise, while Santabarbara’s proposed bill would be intended to react to unexpected issues.

It’s difficult to budget for a water main break or a leaking sewage pipe, Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa said Monday. Last year, the city of Amsterdam has experienced its share of unforeseen water infrastructure malfunctions, such as a prolonged sewage leak last summer.

“Unfortunately, we have become the torchbearer for an issue that really affects many communities across the state,” Villa said.

A leak from July 25 to Aug. 22 last year dumped an estimated 2 million gallons of untreated sewage into the North Chuctanunda Creak, which feeds into the Mohawk River. Another leak developed on Oct. 19 along the city’s sewer line.

“It’s virtually impossible for communities such as ours, to address these problems you can’t plan for,” Villa said, adding that the city’s taxpayer base is already stressed and can’t fund additional infrastructure projects.

He said the emergency funding would keep the city from drawing on other areas of the budget or applying for loans or grants.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city of Schenectady isn’t dealing with the same type of continual issues as is Amsterdam. But the fact that water main breaks or sewage leaks can crop up at any moment is what makes the emergency funding important, he said.

“That’s the nature of it,” he said. “It’s unexpected events that cause such disruption, and these aren’t necessarily 9-5 events.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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