Sewer extensions explored by DEP for Middletown

By Geoff Samuels
The idea of installing more “city funded” sewer lines in the Town of Middletown has sparked many a spirited debate among residents and town officials to say the least. And since Hurricane Irene, the concept is ever more prescient.

At the April 29 East Branch Flood Commission meeting, Marge Miller, chair of the commission, made the case that since Arkville and Margaretville are losing housing due to the flood buy-outs taking place, there should be room to add other users to what would now be an under-used system. “In terms of users of the sewer system,” she said, “we feel there is justification for saying that there is capacity there…so it would be reasonable to look at a (new) sewer extension project”

It’s up to the city
At that assertion, Flood Commission member Pat Davis set out to outline some of the history behind the sewer extension enigma.

“We, the Town of Middletown and the Village of Margaretville, would have to appeal to the city to see if they will choose to add an extension on to a plant that they own, and that they have to fund,” he explained. The only (city funded) extensions that we have ever seen in Middletown-Margaretville, he said, were the ones that were in the original MOA of 1997: one that currently goes up into Glen Acres, and another to service a couple of areas in the village where there are some problems, which, according to Davis, is being worked on right now with the expectation of the project being completed in the 2014-2015 timeframe.

“For us to get future extensions,” said Davis, “we have to justify it, show that there’s a need for it, like the failed systems that were in Glen Acres. And then,” he explained, “there’s a long design phase that goes along with it. It’s not an easy thing to get future extensions, but when you have a flood and you have damage, that definitely puts you in the position of sitting down with the city and the DEC and saying, we need to do this...”

Inflow problem
At that point, Davis elucidated on what is probably the biggest obstacle to the addition of new sewer lines in the area; the fact that the sewer plant in Middletown has an “inflow problem.” He went on to explain that when there is high water, such as in a flood event, the storm water inundates the system, and any water that penetrates the system is considered effluent (sewage).

Because the sewer plant is a gravity system, when too much water gets in, it forces more effluent through the system than it is designed to treat, and it goes back out into the stream. Once this happens, said Davis, you violate what’s called the SPDES (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit, which is what the DEC issues to the DEP to operate the sewer plant.

DEP walks fine line
A headline on one of the DEC’s webpages reads: “New York State has a program which has been approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for the control of wastewater and storm water discharges in accordance with the Clean Water Act. Under New York State law, the program is known as the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and is broader in scope than that required by the Clean Water Act in that it controls point source discharges to ground waters as well as surface waters.” This elaborates somewhat on the scrutiny that a typical sewage plant receives from the state.

“That’s one of the reasons that it’s so difficult to get the city to the table to talk about future extensions” Davis explained, “because right now, they’re in their fourth modification of consent on their SPDES permit after the 2011 flood…every time they violate that permit, they have to show the DEC how they’re going to mitigate that situation to prevent that from happening again.”

Finally, Davis went on to say, “The DEP is walking a very fine line with the DEC here, and when you’re walking a fine line, it makes it kind of tough to come into a municipality and approve sewer extensions which are going to add more usage to a system that you already have some issues with.”