Otsquago Creek flood waters last summer sent a chunk of debris through a buried sewer pipe connecting the toilets on Fort Plain’s east side to the greater sewer network.
Months later, officials from Montgomery County’s sanitary district one, a system serving 1,200 structures in Fort Plain, Palatine Bridge and Nelliston, are looking to hire a specialist to help get the pipe fixed.
They already have an engineering firm drawing up plans. Now they’re looking to bring in an expert on FEMA and state recovery assistance claims to secure project funding.
The project, according to Palatine Bridge Mayor Jim Post, who is also the sanitary district board chairman, will likely qualify for 75 to 90 percent FEMA reimbursement. The issue is that FEMA paperwork is very complicated.
“It’s a complex system,” said Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort, “as it should be. When you’re dealing with large amounts of federal funding, people need the right documentation.”
Ossenfort recently drafted a request for proposals on the consulting job, hoping to hire someone to come in and navigate the sanitary district through the vagaries of the system. All told, they’re looking to spend $15,000 on the consultant. Post said the service will be well worth the money. He said FEMA funding is high stakes for his sewer system.
When engineers first ran their sewer line below the Otsquago Creek many years ago, they had a sense there might be issues with erosion and breakage, so they buried a second parallel pipe below the creek bed.
Right now sewage from dozens of homes on Fort Plain’s east side is pumped through the back-up pipe. It’s working fine, Post said, but he’s not comfortable operating without security.
“Say something happens to that one pipe,” he said. “Then where would we be?”
So the district needs to fix the broken pipe, and it’s going to be pricey. Post said it will cost in the neighborhood of a half-million dollars, which is about as much as the sanitary district’s annual operating budget — a lot of money to run some piping across a small creek. Post explained the cost.
“We had this happen back in 2006,” he said. “We repaired it then, and we drove a row of pylons in front of it like a wall.”
Those pylons were meant to stop erosion and protect the buried sewer pipes. They worked for years, but the June flooding was too much for them.
Post described how after the flood, district employees noticed higher water levels in their waste water facility, tracing the flow to the smashed up pipe.
In all fairness, the pylons were subjected to some significant stress. The sewer pipe was laid near a 380-ton former railroad bridge, used before the flood to support a bike path. That bridge was nearly toppled by the rushing water, its abutments so eroded the whole thing had to be cut apart and pulled out with a crane.
The same water and debris that ruined the 380-ton bridge flowed over the pipe.
This time around, Post plans to encase the whole system in concrete. That’s where the money is going. The likely bill tallied up by McDonald Engineering in Schenectady will be something between $400,000 and $600,000.
FEMA pays out for projects only after they’re done, so the sanitary district will have to bond out the expense, crossing their fingers that afterward FEMA money will actually come through.
“We thought it would be best to just get an expert,” he said.
Spending roughly $15,000 on a consultant to hedge their bets at getting $400,000 he said, is reasonable.
Work will have to wait until water levels drop in the fall. Crews were hoping to get started in the fall of 2013, but other creek projects never allowed water levels to go down. All told Post, said the district won’t likely see federal money for a year.