Mixed reactions to federal sewer funding cuts

Sen. Charles Schumer is speaking out against $430 million worth of cuts in the president’s 2015 budget request for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

Schumer argues that this would hit New York with around a $40 million loss for sewer system funding and affect 340 sewer projects,11 of which are in Franklin and Essex counties.

That money is needed in upstate New York’s sewer systems, Schumer said.

“That’s basically turning the tap off,” he said. “I’m calling on my colleagues to throw the administration’s plan out the window. A $40 million cut in one year would be a real setback for New York.”

Schumer is calling for $1.4 billion worth of funding, the same level as last year, and he also wants to make it 50 percent loans and 50 percent grants.

Schumer said New York is a special case because the state has very old sewer lines.

“We have some of the oldest sewer systems in the country,” Schumer said. “We get about 10 percent of the money because we have a lot of sewers.”

Schumer said Naples, in the Finger Lakes, has no municipal sewer system, that Johnson City is still recovering from flood damage from past storms, and that Utica has a problem with sewer overflow that is polluting the Mohawk River.

“We can list 30 more of these projects in the state that are so vital,” Schumer said. “We have to set a responsible cost in the budget.

“Your local town supervisor will tell you there is a real problem everywhere.”

Schumer said the administration is increasing funding in some areas and decreasing it in others. He believes an increase in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund can be achieved, based on last year’s vote when the House was supportive of $1.4 billion in funding.

“Water and sewer has always had bipartisan support,” he said.

The bill will be up for a vote in the U.S. Senate this June.

In Essex County

In Lake Placid, work will begin in April to replace a sewer line that is around 100 years old. Village Mayor Craig Randall said he expects the Chubb River sewer project to cost about $3.2 million. The village received $1 million from the state for dam removal and river restoration in 2012.

Roby Politi is the supervisor of the town of North Elba, which encompasses the village of Lake Placid. He said it and and North Elba are in pretty good shape.

“There are some very old clay-tile lines, primarily in the village,” Politi said “There are some outside the village, too. Lake Placid has the luxury of having a village.

“But there is a sewer line that definitely needs work here,” he added. “It’s very old.”

Tom Scozzafava, supervisor of the town of Moriah on Lake Champlain, said the federal money is desperately needed there. His town’s sewer system was built 50 to 60 years ago. There are 17 miles of sewer line with a manhole every 100 feet.

“We have manholes that are crumbling,” he said.

“What happens in heavy rains, we are not sure where a lot of this water is getting in (to the sewer system),” Scozzafava said. “It really taxes the system. The water filtration plant has to work harder to keep up with it.”

Scozzafava said there has to be some form of help from the federal and state government in sewer system infrastructure.

“You can’t do these infrastructure improvements and put the costs solely on the backs of the users; they could never afford it,” he said. “Throughout the years we have been very successful obtaining grant funding for infrastructure – knock on wood.”

In Franklin County

John Hutchins, Franklin County’s highway superintendent, said his county has seen an increase in funding from the state, but he doesn’t expect Schumer’s plan to be very helpful for the county.

“We (in Franklin County) got about $280,000 extra general Department of Transportation funding,” Hutchins said. “Some of the towns got a couple-thousand-dollar raise.”

He said that gave Franklin about a 20 percent increase on the county level and equated to about a 25 percent increase on the town level.

Hutchins was not too impressed by Schumer’s plan. He said funding is based on population and the North Country doesn’t have metropolitan areas, which of course means less funding.

“New York City and Long Island gets the bulk of it,” he said. “A lot of the stuff that is out there never makes it to the North Country. We have 50,000 people here. We are just not big enough per capita.”

Hutchins said his county does not have a grant writer, so even if more grants are offered, he does not expect the county to be able to get them.

“I can’t see anything in here (Schumer’s plan) that is valuable to our county,” he said. “This isn’t going to help Franklin.”

Jerry Fisher, supervisor of the Department of Public Works for the village of Malone, said the sewer system there is old, too

“We try to rebuild it as much as we can when funding allows,” Fischer said.

Ideally he would like to upgrade the old pipes to newer plastic ones, which are less expensive and easier to work with. Some of the older sewer lines in Malone are made of clay.

“If we find there is an older section of pipe, we will replace it as needed, but there are parts of our system that are maybe 100 years old,” he said.