I get it, politicians need to show they are being pro-active, especially with November coming up. But for state officials to label money for infrastructure upgrades that was coming down the pipe anyway for the City of Amsterdam as a “response” to the sewer leak on Forest Avenue, comes across to me as just a little patronizing.
The announcement of a combination $1.25 million grant, and $3.75 million interest free loan comes at an opportune time for the city, given the repair of the Forest Avenue sewer line can be covered under the scope of the city’s big sewer upgrade project. But twenty-nine other municipalities were also approved for infrastructure project funding at the same time.
Furthermore, Amsterdam’s project has been in the planning stages for a long time. The mayor and common council approved the borrowing necessary for the project back in February. When I talked to Urban Renewal Agency Director Nick Zabawsky after the vote in February, my impression from him was that the interest free loan was pretty much a done deal, and he seemed very optimistic that we would secure the grant as well.
It’s also important to understand that the city’s big upgrade project is about complying with a Department of Environmental Conservation order issued last year to reduce the amount of waste water overflow from the various pump stations into the Mohawk River. Fixing sewer leaking out of lines is not the primary goal.
According to the order, the DEC sets limits on the amount of overflow that is allowed, and the city has been exceeding those limits. Based on the engineers I’ve listened to, overflows are caused by several factors: ground water seeping into cracks in old sewer lines during heavy rain, equipment failure at one of the stations (such as the faulty valve which caused an overflow last month), and power outages which can cause the pumps to stop working altogether if the antiquated backup generators fail. The projects encompasses all three areas and will replace approximately 17,000 feet of old sewer lines, upgrade the equipment at the pump stations, and install new backup generators.
I think city officials have done all they can to respond to the Forest Avenue problem. I think the media attention the issue has gotten on local TV stations has been one of the factors that has prompted state officials to get involved. State Senator George Amedore and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara have both written letters to Governor Andrew Cuomo on behalf of the city, asking for assistance. However, I think if state officials really want to show a pro-active response to the problem, they need to find some actual emergency funds to help defray the cost of the Forest Avenue fix, which will most likely be in the hundreds of thousands, rather than just saying “here’s our response” and pointing to money that was already on its way.
On the bright side, the incident has brought the infrastructure problems that New York State municipalities face to the forefront of the region’s attention. It shows just how difficult it is for cities like Amsterdam to fix the big infrastructure problems they face without going into deeper debt or raising taxes.