Violation of Trump steel regulation could cost Amsterdam thousands

Taxpayers out $62,000 for using non-U.S. steel
Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa finishes his "State of the City" address in January.
Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa finishes his "State of the City" address in January.

AMSTERDAM — A 2017 Trump administration executive order mandating American-made steel be used for federally financed projects has forced the city of Amsterdam to pay back $62,000 to the federal government. The city must also go back and rip up the repaired pipes and replace them with American steel and iron or pay back the $570,000 spent on the project. 

During the summer of 2017 the city had an emergency breakdown at its sewer system’s East Side pump station. The breakdown allowed millions of gallons of raw sewage to flow into the Mohawk River. 

City Controller Matt Agresta said the city was forced to begin an emergency repair project before obtaining a New York state Environmental Facilities Corporation loan to finance the project, which ultimately cost about $570,000. The EFC loan money is derived from a federal block grant program, and subject to President Donald Trump’s executive order that American steel and iron be used for any project using federal money. 

“It’s difficult when you have an emergency situation to wait to see if everything you’re doing is compliant with the EFC,” Agresta said. 

The Common Council voted last week to approve transferring the $62,000 from the city’s sewer contingency fund to pay for the non-compliant materials portion of the project. 

Mayor Michael Villa said he was made aware of the federal regulation during the repair project, but he felt like he had no choice but to go forward with the repairs.

“You can cut it anyway you want, but you’re either going to pump sewage into the Mohawk, or you’re going to fix the pipe, however you’re going to fix it. That was the decision we made. We felt at the time that under the circumstances that the requirements would be overwritten by the fact that we really had no choice. Are you going to wait for the pipe to come in and let sewage flow into the river? It was a no-brainer,” Villa said. 

Villa said he attempted to negotiate with state officials to gain the city some leniency from the American steel requirement given the dire need to complete the pump station repairs quickly, but none was given.

More from this week: Our top stories Feb. 23-March 1, 2019

“We thought the state would understand, but obviously there is no waiver provision on this federal requirement,” he said.  

Agresta said the city was forced to pay back all of the money used for non-U.S. steel and must now replace the steel. 

“If we chose to do nothing, in terms of fixing the non-compliant materials, we will have to pay the entire amount of the loan [$570,000] back at that time, but if we plan on bringing in a contractor to replace those non-compliant parts the funds that were made available originally for the break can be used for that repair, or replacement of the noncompliant material,” he said. 

Villa said no matter what the city of Amsterdam will be out the $62,000. 

Replacing the non-American steel pipes used for the repaired portion of the East Side pump station runs the risk of damaging other parts of the sewer system, he said. 

“We have to replace this without infringing upon or compromising pipe that this is already attached to,” Villa said.

Villa expressed frustration at the application of the American-steel only policy being required of an emergency repair that occurred relatively close to the time the executive order was signed by President Trump. 

Villa said Amsterdam’s aging infrastructure, which includes more than 100-year-old sewer and water lines, has had several breaks in recent years, forcing his administration to borrow $10 million for repairs.

“I think we were the first community in New York state to use the governor’s emergency loan for infrastructure, so we have issues. I know Albany, Troy and Schenectady face similar issues,” he said. 

Villa said the city Department of Public works is now working on a plan to replace the non-American made steel parts without damaging the rest of the system. He said he expects that project will begin in the spring or summer, but he’s concerned that if a mistake is made the city will be on the hook for any damage done. 

“If something were to happen now, post this, probably the city is going to bear the brunt, which is why it’s so important for the engineers to come up with a work-around for this. They’re confident they have, but the way we’re going nothing goes right, so you just don’t know,” he said. 

More from this week: Our top stories Feb. 23-March 1, 2019

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