WHITEHALL -- Mayor Peter Telisky called it “the best news the village has gotten in a long time.”
The news came out of the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which included $2.74 million in USDA Rural Development aid to solve major issues on the village’s sewer system that result in pollution every time the area gets a serious rainstorm.
“This is a very, very old system and originally it was meant to be a combined system for sewage and rain runoff,” said Telisky, who inherited an issue that has plagued village mayors for many years. “When there is a heavy downpour, we get flooded, and we have to shut down the sewer plant, so there is overflow. We are polluting both state water — the Champlain Canal — and federal waters, because some of the pollution winds up in Lake Champlain.”
The funding includes a $2 million grant and $740,000 in a low-interest loan.
Telisky said the timing is good because, as that loan comes due, the city will retire some old water-system debt and should be able to handle the new loan payments.
Planning has already started for the work, which will be focused on the Elizabeth Street area and also includes the areas of Park Avenue and Poultney Street, all of which is served by Pump No. 5.
“That’s always the first one to overflow when we get a heavy rain, so that’s where we will target,” Telisky said. “We are going to upgrade that area to separate as much of that rainwater out of the sanitary systems as we can.”
The work will include replacing the stormwater and sewer lines in the area and finding and fixing broken pipes and tiles, Telisky said.
Telisky said he hopes the work can begin the summer and be completed by next year.
“We’ve been on deck for the last three years trying to do anything we could to find money for this. We’re glad the federal representatives came through for us on this,” Telisky said. “We have been working every angle we can, and now there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Because of the multiple overflows of the sewer system in recent years, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a consent order in late 2009.
The USDA funds will cover Phase I of the proposed renovation, eliminating stormwater-sewer cross connections, consolidating and managing sewer overflows and rehabilitating the most problematic sections of gravity sewer mains.
When all phases of the project are done, the system will include a combination of gravity sewer main, manholes, service laterals and storm sewers/laterals, as well as reduction of stormwater-sewer cross connections and implementation of stormwater management measures.
Final plans also include possible repairs to the village’s wastewater treatment plant. These improvements should solve overflow and environmental concerns.
Telisky said that beyond reducing pollution, the improvements should save the village money and wear and tear on the plant.
“Basically, what happens now is the rainwater, which is clean to begin with, mixes in with our waste and it basically clogs the system,” Telisky said. “This will drop the amount of water we have to process and will lower our costs, including electric bills, and will put less pressure on the pumps and the plant.”
Three members of the state’s congressional delegation all had prepared comments on the grant and loan.
“It is difficult to attract new residents and businesses with a faulty sewer system. That is why this funding, and the sewer repairs that will get underway as a result, is so important for the future of Whitehall,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.. “This federal funding will take a tremendous financial burden off of the village and allow Whitehall to begin construction right away on a project that is vital to its long-term prosperity.”
“This is an important investment for the village of Whitehall,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the first New York senator to serve on the Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “We need to protect our community while ensuring our residents don’t bear the tax burden of cleanup when damaged sewers overflow. Not only will this funding help maintain sanitary conditions, but it will ensure that necessary infrastructure is in place for the area’s economic development initiatives that drive the local economy.”
Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said, “Safe, reliable sanitation is a basic need for every community. “The current system in Whitehall has proven to be insufficient and in need of repair and renovation. This USDA funding through the 2014 Farm Bill supports upgrades that will help keep residents safe and prevent significant and recurring harm to the local economy and environment.”