To Rosendale residents and municipal officials, it must seem as if the town’s water woes, and the enormous infrastructure projects needed to ameliorate them, have been going on forever. It was back in 2013 that town supervisor Jeanne Walsh and engineering consultants Barton & Loguidice began aggressively pursuing New York State grants and loans to fund badly needed repairs and replacements, and the process is not yet complete. But at last, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, according to Walsh.
Part of Rosendale’s troubles were due to the same “aging infrastructure” factor afflicting most older towns in the Northeast US: water supply, storage, filtration, treatment and distribution systems that were built long ago – more than a century, in the case of many water mains – and have simply broken down. These problems were exacerbated by flood damage in 2011 in towns like Rosendale that lay in the path of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
The silver lining of that year’s storms, however, was that Rosendale was one of a select list of communities that qualified for millions of dollars in state assistance through a special program called New York Rising. Some of the funding came in the form of grants that required local matching funds but didn’t need to be repaid; the rest came as zero-interest or low-interest loans from a quasi-governmental lender, the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC).
Through these funding programs, Rosendale has slowly-but-surely been working its way through a long list of critical water and sewer infrastructure improvement projects. Ancient water mains downtown were replaced, pump stations modernized. Floodwalls along the Rondout Creek and roadbeds washed out by the storms were reconstructed. A program to update building water meters, placed on hiatus with the onset of the Covid pandemic because the installers have to enter private dwellings, is about to resume “as soon as the weather breaks,” Walsh says. The town’s wastewater plant got a new generator, and work is set to begin this summer on other major improvements to the plant, including installation of a state-of-the-art ultraviolet treatment system.
The last major component of the massive upgrade plan is the big tower on Sand Hill that stores water for distribution to the entire downtown hamlet. Plans to give the 30-year-old tank a new lease on life by plugging a known leak with a metal plate, replacing its lining and repainting its exterior were being formulated in 2019 when an inspection by the engineers revealed that “The tank sprang three leaks,” in Walsh’s words, caused by scouring from the movement of ice. It quickly became clear that replacement of the tank was the only wise long-term alternative.
This solution was problematic in several logistical ways, however. A temporary tank, with a rental cost of about $350,000, would be needed to store water while the old one was dismantled and a new one constructed. However, says the supervisor, “Where the tank is made it very difficult for us to be able to address the problem.” There isn’t much room to spare on the existing site, located on a steep hillside, and the access road from the end of Brown Avenue is too narrow to haul in a replacement tank of adequate size. According to Walsh, one option under consideration two years ago was to close Sand Hill Road to vehicular traffic altogether during the construction period and plunk down the temporary tank right on the pavement.
Then Covid-19 hit, and public discussion of the problem was put on hold. Behind the scenes, town officials began looking at the option of building a new access road to the water tower site, which would require the acquisition of a piece of adjacent property. Walsh approached the owners of St. Peter’s Cemetery, located on Elting Road where the top of Sand Hill Road emerges, and negotiated the subdivision and purchase of a small wooded parcel where there are no graves. An agreement has been reached, and now the town must float a short-term bond of a little over two million dollars to acquire the land and construct the access road, while applying for an increase to the EFC zero-interest loan previously approved at the half-million-dollar level for the tank project under New York Rising.
Walsh explains that, under this new arrangement, no temporary storage tank rental will be necessary; the existing tank will continue to serve downtown residents until the new one is constructed right behind it. Then the old tower can be dismantled and the scrap removed from the site.
At the March 3 Town Board meeting, a special public hearing on the bond issue was scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 24, to be conducted remotely. The board also voted to initiate the State Environmental Quality Review process for the road construction project. “We expect the work to start sometime this summer,” says Walsh. “Getting the tank done will be big.”