DEP still open to alternative sewer plan to serve residents in Phoenicia hamlet

By Jay Braman Jr.
At a meeting Monday night, Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani told those attending that he had just received that day the long-awaited response from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on the latest wastewater plan. The new plan uses vegetated sand beds instead of the conventional concrete and chemical version that Phoenicia voters turned down two years ago.
While the DEP letter, drafted by Assistant Commissioner David Warne, does not give the green light to the plans, it doesn’t red light them either.
“While some outstanding issues related to the proposal still remain, DEP is nevertheless encouraged by the progress made in responding to our comment letter of December 10,” Warne wrote.
The hamlet, targeted for a sewer system in the mid-1990s, has received at least two extensions to a deadline made by DEP. The most recent deadline, which ended last December, was granted to allow Phoenicia to do a feasibility study for an alternative treatment system. The city, which is offering $17.2 million to build the hamlet a conventional system, then reviewed the alternative plan and refused to approve it.
Richard Rennia of Rennia Engineering said the city supplied specific objections to that first proposal, developed last fall by Rennia’s firm.
Rennia amended that proposal to include all the elements the city thought missing. The size of the system has doubled and now it includes the micro-filtration phase of treatment the city requires. As a result, it will now cost as much to build the wetlands/reed bed system as the old conventional one, but it will cost much less to operate.
The conventional system would have cost $375,000 a year to run. Rennia’s system would cost $177,000 a year.
The first week of February the town sent Rennia’s amended plan to DEP and waited for a response, until Monday.
DEP is prepared to offer yet another time extension to Phoenicia, but has given DiSclafani and Rennia only until the end of this month to address four specific concerns:
Rennia must back up claims of the system’s ability to remove ammonia and phosphorous.
DEP is not convinced that the standby reed beds can be kept operational. Rennia needs to prove they will not freeze over in the winter or dry out in the summer.
Rennia needs to provide more data on how the system would operate during peak flows and low flows.
Rennia must supply back up information to show how they came up with the size of the system needed. Should these matters be successfully addressed, Warne said, DEP would require the town to secure an option on the extra land needed for the system before proceeding any further.
Warne also threw another idea in the mix. New technology is available that combines two types of treatment into one. Warne said membrane bioreactor technology, allowed under the yet-to-be-adopted amendments to the Watershed Rules and Regulations, would be an acceptable part of the system.
“The town might be well served to request the development of a cost estimate for this alternative,” he said.
DiSclafani said he has yet to hear from Rennia about how they would respond to Warne’s letter, or even if they could.