The Village of New Paltz has been under a microscope due to serious sewer-system problems for nearly 20 years, when it was not unusual for raw sewage to spurt out from under maintenance covers after heavy rains. Under the terms of a consent order, progress has to be made to fix the problems, which largely have to do with leaky old sewer mains taking in fresh water that in turn overwhelms the treatment plant. Consultant Mark Blauer has served an important role in this process, writing applications for grants to get the funding needed to replace or rehabilitate infrastructure that was largely neglected during the 20th century. This year the state funding process was retooled to ensure that projects are “shovel-ready,” meaning that a lot of the planning costs now have to be paid ahead of time, before it’s known if the grant will be awarded at all. While the Village’s environmental issues tend to move these applications higher up the list, Blauer warned that there is no guarantee that money spent on the environmental review will be reimbursed through a grant award.
For the upcoming round of funding, Blauer has prepared a pitch to do work on the mains under South Chestnut, Prospect and Harrington streets, for about $914,000. These are old pipes; the South Chestnut one, for example, is a clay line that was installed in 1910. Clay mains of that age are prone to outright collapse, and could be the reason why there are still issues with raw sewage in two maintenance holes to this day during heavy rains. Mayor Tim Rogers, who seems to have a passion for focusing on these data, has seen the volume of liquid going through the treatment plant has been dropping off in response to years of persistent effort to fix these problems. Specifically, days when more than two-million gallons passes through the system — more than double the daily average — have been dropping, even as Village population and activity are on the rise.
The fact that notices of violation have been issued due to overflow incidents isn’t good for health and the environment, but it does reinforce the urgency of the issues in New Paltz. It’s a big part of why the Village has been a top county recipient of money for this type of project. Still, Blauer considers it “only a matter of time” before a Village submission doesn’t make the cut. “Some years we haven’t won, but we have prevailed by being persistent.” Blauer said that the complexity of the application process is probably enough to weed out some competition.
“Chasing down grant money for basic services is brutal,” said Rogers.
With the entire environmental review being conducted prior to applying, there’s more money than ever on the hook for taxpayers, but it’s a risk that must be taken as long as the consent order is in place. How long that will be still isn’t clear, but Rogers sees the rainfall data as a useful metric for predicting when state officials will lift it.
Expenses for these grants are not just being shifted earlier; they are also rising along with most other prices. If the costs exceed the grant amount, the scope of work has to be curtailed. If a sewer main is taken off the work list for one year, it will end up in a future grant application, pushing back the lifting of the consent order by some amount.