Water and sewer are two of the most-complex issues officials in Seneca County have been tasked with addressing over the last two decades. Historically, the Board of Supervisors have seen their share, plus some, as far as challenges, roadblocks, and hurdles are concerned.
Last year, they were faced with a deadline to deal with Department of Environmental Conservation violations, which resulted in a draft plan to consolidate water service.
That plan, which was backed by the supervisors earlier this year, was solidified before Hillside Children's Center in Varick announced that it would be shutting down.
A meeting held May 29th delved into the subject, resulting in more than two hours of discussion about the future of sewer service around Willard, Five Points, and the former Hillside location.
How much will the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) pay or contribute to any changes? How does closure of Hillside impact the overall need at the sites?
The plan that has the County's backing at this point includes the buildout of a new wastewater treatment facility, which would replace the two failing plants. Those two failing plants would then be converted to pump stations, according to officials with Seneca County.
The new, unified plant would be located in Willard - where one of the plants sit presently. Meanwhile, the treatment plant at Five Points would be shut down and converted to a pump station.
The problem is that the treatment facility along Seneca Lake is 37 years old, and needs significant fixes to remain functional and legal, per its State Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. Similarly, the treatment plant at Five Points needs upgrades to stay current on its own SPDES permit.
The total cost would be approximately $2.2 million, according to engineers with Barton & Loguidice, the County's engineering firm of choice for this process.
In Seneca County, though, there is a resident who continues to push back against the proposal to consolidate. Mary Anne Kowalski, who served as administrator of the impacted districts in 2014 and 2015, says the plan has lacked sufficient details to move forward.
"I think the idea was to get the project started, without answering any hard questions, and then just rely on the BOS to do whatever the former County Manager recommended, knowing the affected Towns did not have the votes to stop it," Kowalski explained. She says that the DEC fines, which had been leveraged as cause for concern during the initiation of this undertaking, has been misrepresented. "The DEC only cares that the violations are corrected, and discharge limits are met. They do not care how the permit holders achieve compliance."
Kowalski says there are a number of environmental concerns. "My biggest concern is the unnecessary cost to residential customers who cannot afford the proposed increased costs," she continued. "One of the things the engineers keep chanting at the meetings is 'stronger together.' Because the villages of Lodi, Ovid and Interlaken are poverty areas, their inclusion makes the project eligible for more funding."
But she says that is precisely what makes it unsustainable.
Kowalski also says village boards were largely excluded from the process - until she alerted them this year about it. This despite the fact that consolidation of these districts has been under debate for upwards of two years. "The village mayors and boards were not invited to workshops until March 2019," Kowalski recounted.
And even now, a solution is not imminent. Some supervisors remain skeptical about consolidation efforts, and how to move forward with limited resources available.