City agrees to fund Andes water repairs

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By Pauline Liu
Efforts to replace Andes’ seven-year-old malfunctioning wastewater treatment system could begin as soon as next year, at a cost of about $2.3 million to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP.)

Andes Town Supervisor Marty Donnelly made the announcement at last Thursday’s town board meeting, which was held at town hall.

“I was able to get the New York City DEP to agree to pay upwards of $ 2.3 million,” he said. “That means there will be little or no cost to the residents of our sewer district.” 

The good news was greeted with stunned silence by the audience of about 20. Most of those who filled the small meeting room, had come to hear about the town’s proposed anti-fracking law, only to find out that the presentation was postponed until next month. The announcement about the controversial wastewater treatment plant took some by surprise. For years, they’ve been hearing about the seriously flawed plant, which was approved by the Village of Andes, before it was dissolved.

However, when Supervisor Donnelly told the audience about a federal grant for the plant, they cheered.

“We have received confirmation that we will receive a $250,000 water protection grant from the Army Corps of Engineers,” Donnelly read from his list of announcements. The supervisor says the Army Corps of Engineers will be meeting with DEP to decide how the grant money will be spent.

The grant money could prove especially useful, if it can be applied towards the cost of the new treatment system. DEP Spokesperson Mercedes Padilla, outlined the agreement, which was struck between the DEP and Andes on August 10. “The estimated design and construction costs of the proposed modification are approximately $2.5 million,” said Padilla. “Based upon preliminary budget, the city is expected to provide roughly 85 percent of overall project costs or about $2.1 million. The city provided $176,000 for project design to the Town on August 24, 2011.  The funding to be paid by the city for this project will be provided to the town through a city contract with the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation.  This contract is expected to be in place by mid-2012.” 
  
It’s been almost a year since the plant failed and overflowed, after seven inches of rain fell over a two-day period beginning on September 30. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) more than 350,000 gallon of raw sewage spilled into Tremperskill Creek on each of those days. From there, diluted sewage flowed into the Pepacton Reservoir. The incident triggered fines against Andes of nearly $2,000 and an order from DEC to have the problem fixed by December 2012. 

Town officials feel an overhaul of the plant cannot occur soon enough, as demonstrated by problems at the plant during Tropical Storm Irene.

“The Andes plant went off line on August 28 and came back on line on August 30,” said DEC Spokesman Rick Georgeson. “About 18,000 gallons of sewage was bypassed to a holding pond. No sewage was released to the environment. The sewage in the holding pond will be pumped back through the plant and treated.”

Donnelly publicly thanked the plant’s Chief Operator Shane Boise for spending 31 consecutive hours to get the plant back on line during high water.

“We are extremely pleased for the cooperation of the DEP. They saw the need for this to be accomplished. We also appreciate the Army Corp of Engineers,” said Donnelly during phone conversation after the meeting. “The design work has already begun and some of the work inside the plant could begin after the first of the year,” he said.

In other news, Donnelly invited a representative from Delaware Operations, which runs the plant, to explain the confusion over a boil water order. Technical/Safety Director John Moffett told the audience that an error by a lab in Hunter led to a boil water order issued to water district residents a few days earlier.

“The lab called to say the results that were bad, were actually not bad, so this was done for nothing,” said Moffett. “There was no public health issue. Sorry about the scare, but better safe than sorry.”

As for the town’s proposed zoning law aimed at preventing fracking and related truck traffic in Andes,  the supervisor explained that Town Attorney David Merzig and his wife Marge have been working on the draft legislation. However, the couple could not attend the Thursday meeting, because of the birth of a grandchild in Texas. In order to avoid legal challenges to the legislation, Donnelly explained that the language of the proposed zoning law would have to address the regulation of heavy industry, instead of directly addressing the issue of fracking.

“It’s against the law to ban oil or gas drilling,” he said. “The only way around it is to regulate heavy industrial use.”

New York State has banned natural gas drilling in the watershed, where New York City gets its unfiltered drinking water. Most of Andes is in the watershed. Four residents stood up to discuss the need for legislation, in case DEC decides to someday lift the ban on fracking. Some, including actress, Susan Dey, thanked town officials for their efforts.

“I’m a really proud resident of Andes,” she said. “I want to thank you so much for being ahead of the game in protecting the environment.” 

The next town board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 12:30 p.m. at town hall.