The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Bedford Town Board says no to $54.3M sewer plan

By JOHN ROCHE

The Bedford Town Board this week voted not to proceed with the expansion of an existing treatment facility as part of plans for a sewer system serving Katonah and Bedford Hills, and instead will now explore other options to handle the town’s wastewater.

The board’s unanimous vote Tuesday evening put an end to a nine-year examination into plans to expand a wastewater treatment plant currently owned by the New York State Department of Corrections on Beaver Dam Road. The vote came as a result of a request by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which is concerned about Bedford’s solutions to wastewater runoff in city reservoirs.

“The DEP has asked the town to let them know which direction will be pursued so that they can move forward with upgrading the four existing wastewater plants if necessary,” said Department of Public Works Commissioner Kevin Winn in a memo to the town board.

Bedford officials had hoped that the existing facility, which now serves the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, could be expanded to serve the prison as well as homes and businesses in Bedford Hills and Katonah, thereby addressing the longstanding need for sewers and a centralized collection and treatment system for Bedford’s effluent.

But at a work session on April 3 at which Mr. Winn and director of planning Jeff Osterman presented an update on Bedford’s options to address septic and wastewater issues, the five-member board scrapped the plan to acquire and expand the prison’s facility, based on the project’s estimated $54.3 million price tag.

In addition to acquiring and expanding the prison’s wastewater treatment plant, the project would have required substantial excavation throughout Bedford Hills and Katonah, since sewer lines would have to be installed to connect homes and businesses with the new wastewater collection system.  

“It’s just too extreme an expense for Bedford taxpayers to bear, especially now,” said Supervisor Lee Roberts.

Ms. Roberts and other board members pointed out that many of the homes in the area where the failing septic systems exist are also in the Consolidated Water District, and so will soon be paying a considerable increase because of the new $22 million water filtration plant set to open this summer.

When the new filtration plant starts providing potable drinking water for that district, the average home will see an increase in their water bill of just over $300 in the coming year.

“We can’t add another increase for residents who are already faced with an increase stemming from the drinking water plant,” the supervisor said.

The board’s vote followed deliberation and some number crunching to weigh the hefty cost. Even with $15 million pledged for the project by the DEP and another $10 million in East of Hudson funds already allocated for it, the board ultimately decided that asking taxpayers to foot the remaining $24.3 million was untenable.  

While the board did not decide at Tuesday’s meeting how the town might proceed with addressing its wastewater issues, it formally voted to notify the DEP, Corrections and other involved agencies that Bedford is abandoning the idea of expanding the wastewater treatment plant on Beaver Dam Road and digging up the hamlets to build the collection system — a part of the project that would not only be disruptive for residents but expensive as well.

“In the final analysis, in light of the staggering cost, I think it’s best that we tell the DEP and others we’ve been working with that we’re not moving forward on this any longer,” Ms. Roberts said. 

Taking over operations of the prison’s plant seemed the most viable and cost-effective option to handle Bedford’s wastewater and make long-anticipated sewers a reality in Katonah and Bedford Hills, officials said, and a multipronged, often complicated process for state approval has been under way since 2003. Ms. Roberts said at the meeting that the process was not only time-consuming but also “cost a fortune.”

Town officials and consultants hired during that lengthy process maintained that increasing the capacity of the facility on Beaver Dam Road, rather than constructing a new facility, would not only result in significant cost savings but also provide economy of scale, since existing infrastructure would be utilized, and the needs of the town and the prison would be consolidated.

When the wastewater plant project was first proposed, DEP regulations prohibited the construction or expansion of a wastewater treatment plant within Bedford or elsewhere in the city’s watershed area due to its proximity to the DEP’s water supply system. But given the septic system problems, resulting nitrate pollution and small lot sizes relative to septic system needs in Bedford and several surrounding communities, the DEP three years ago proposed modifications to its regulations, which would allow for construction of a wastewater treatment plant in the area or expansion of existing facilities.

The DEP had offered to chip in $15 million toward the wastewater treatment plant, since that would have eliminated the need for four existing, small wastewater facilities in town. Without the expansion of the prison plant, the DEP is obligated by federal mandates to fund individual upgrades at each of those existing facilities in Katonah and Bedford Hills. Those small plants are located at Bedford Lake, the Bedford Park Apartments, Katonah Elementary School and St. Mary’s School.

But this week, although the town spent plenty of time, money and resources on exploring the feasibility of the project, the current price tag prompted the board to bring the acquisition and expansion plan for the prison’s plant to a halt.

“I agree that the $54 million cost, even when taking the $25 million in other funds into account, is too big a bite to ask town residents to take on,” board member Francis Corcoran said.

In order to create a new sewer district, Bedford would have had to hold a public referendum on that measure, and the rates residents would incur would have to be approved by the state comptroller. Voters shot down other referendums regarding sewer projects in town, which have been proposed at various times over the past 100 years.

The average cost per property in the proposed district for the wastewater plant would have been between $1,109 to $1,447 in the first year alone.

“Even without considering whether there would be support from the community for this project, it’s clear to me that the costs are too high,” councilmember Chris Burdick said. “These figures are pretty daunting.”

Deputy Supervisor Peter Chryssos and councilmember David Gabrielson said they also felt the plant expansion plan was cost-prohibitive, and joined with their board colleagues on both the vote as well as pledge to consider other options to deal with the wastewater issues plaguing parts of town.

Mr. Winn and Mr. Osterman told the board that among the other possibilities would be to use the $10 million in East of Hudson funds to establish a funding program for Bedford homeowners with failing septic systems, either as a grant or loan program. Some of those funds could also be used to construct a smaller wastewater system to serve areas with high rates of septic system failures.

Under that option, the DEP would likely proceed with upgrading the four existing wastewater sites in town to an advanced treatment system, such as microfiltration. New structures would have to be built, and three of the sites are in dense residential areas, the DPW commissioner pointed out.

Another option would be to proceed with how failing septic systems are now being handled, which involves the county’s Department of Health informing a property owner that their failing system, as deemed by an inspection, needs to be fixed or replaced. “But the cost of that for a homeowner could range from an inexpensive minor repair to a complete system replacement, which could cost $10,000 or more,” Mr. Winn reminded the board.

Mr. Corcoran urged the rest of the board to “hold the county’s feet to the fire” in terms of allowing homeowners to use alternative septic systems. An alternative system still utilizes some sort of pre-treatment unit, usually a septic tank, but other technologies are used to modify the wastewater flow and subsurface soil absorption.

Mr. Osterman said that alternative systems have proved to be effective elsewhere around the region and country, but they are still not currently permitted in Westchester.

“We have a lot more work to do, but exploring other feasible options is the way to go, considering how extreme the cost burden of expanding the existing plant would be,” Ms. Roberts said.



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APRIL 6, 2012