Sunday, April 15, 2007

Paying for Poop: Oneida County's Dereliction of Duty

Last week we were told that Oneida County faces a state DEC order that bans new sewer hookups in several communities until the County stops polluting the Mohawk with sewage. The Lowe's project and others will be put on hold. County Executive Picente is shocked at the consent order, and does not want to agree to anything that would bar "economic development."

Some local officials in New Hartford are in a snit and point a finger at the State.
"The state is being unrealistic," Planning Board Chair Hans G. Arnold said. "They have to re-examine. It is a highly damaging move on DEC's part."
Meanwhile, some County officials point a finger at local officials. Rome Legislator David J. Wood said,
"It should have been dealt with at a local level before . . . These are the things the municipalities should have been on top of. Now the state's coming in with a big stick."
The state is being practical. "Economic development" causes poop and other waste products which need proper disposal. Since everyone was told of the pollution well over a year ago, we have heard neither expressions of concern nor suggestions of solutions from Mr. Arnold or other local officials, especially from those involved with planning or approving new developments -- who should know where the new poop is going to go! In fact, while New Hartford acknowledges that the pollution problem exists (see 7.1.1) , it plans for even more development (see p. 21). The state's ban is a logical and necessary move to prevent the problem from worsening. The lack of action this past year makes it quite clear that no one will fix the problem until they are forced to do so.

The County must assume responsibility for this violation. While the local municipalities should not have permitted developments without knowing that the resultant waste would be properly handled, the County looked the other way while the local municipalities overwhelmed County facilities. In fact, the County seems to have rewarded them for doing it: witness New Hartford's receipt of a fat $150,000 check from County Taxpayers for NH's development efforts (see p. 6).

The County has the legal authority to control what goes into its facilities. If it wanted, it could have limited their use to the urbanized acreage that existed at the time the facilities were designed. It could have made hookup of new areas to the system contingent upon receipt of a fee that would go toward expanding the capacity of the facilities to accommodate the additions. It did neither. Instead it makes excuses and looks for a bailout.

"We’ll look for federal and state assistance," Picente said in commenting on how to pay for the upgrades. "It’s a problem across the nation. It just can’t go on the taxpayers and the county."
No, Mr. Picente, this is not a problem across the nation. The national problem you refer to was cured by all the federal Clean Water Act funding during the 1970s. Oneida County's current problem is one of local making. It is the result of incompetence, negligence, lack of attention, or catering to special interests -- the costs of which, unfortunately, always come down to local taxpayers and ratepayers.

Innocent people will be hurt. Health risk aside, there will be a financial impact. The problem must be fixed by 2011 at a cost of up to $66 million. As I blogged a year ago here and here, the users of the County System will likely pay the price -- if not all users, then at least those in the portion served by the Sauquoit Creek collection system. Unfortunately a lot of innocent homeowners and businesses, the people who are located in the oldest parts of the sewered area, the people who have paid for years into the system through their user fees, are going to be financially hurt. They will be forced to pay for the remediation needed which is the share that should have been paid by the developers before they were allowed to simply hook on.

The County's propensity for passing on poop extends to other areas. Now the County wants to inject itself into the dispute between the Mohawk Valley Water Authority and the State Canal Corp. which is holding up expansion of the water system.
Kirkland wells polluted by E. coli have been cited as a reason why city water must be brought to the hinterlands. But where does e. coli come from? It comes from fecal material -- i.e., POOP AGAIN. Somehow, waste material is getting into people's drinking water wells. There is simply no excuse for this to happen in this day and age. Long Island's Suffolk County with over a million inhabitants is almost entirely dependent on ground water for drinking AND on cesspools for wastewater disposal, but does not have this e. coli problem. Suffolk County achieves this astounding feat by carefully regulating what people can do. Why is Oneida County not able to protect its ground water resources? Instead of solving another poop-pollution problem, the County uses it to justify extending a city water system. Could it just be an another way of pandering to developers?

The County has been derelict in its duty to the environment. The $177,000 fine (which should not be passed on to the rate payers, and which is only a small fraction of what DEC could have levied or what DEC would have levied had this been a private business) is well deserved.

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From subsidized water and sewer for developers, go to CNY Snakepit to read how other business interests seek subsidies of a different sort.


Anonymous said...

Great report. The answer lies in having the Oneida Nation enterprises pay their fair share. If Mr. Picente would allow that to happen, the county taxpayers wouldn't even feel the pinch of the cost of bond to fix the problem. He's too arrogant and doesn't want to interfere with Ms. Destito's sacred and lucrative cow. She has to keep the status quo with OIN as her family makes millions on exclusive contracts with them, at our expense.

Anonymous said...

The Town of New Hartford has had "UNCONTROLLED" growth and THEY have surely contributed to THEIR share of the sewage problem. I wonder where the Town Officials were giving the contractors in New Hartford a "FREE RIDE."

Perhaps, the public needs to hold our elected officials accountable for their gross negligence in these matters.

It would be interesting to learn how many contractors in the Town of New Hartford were given monies held for water and sewer problems? BUT this is another story - yet to unfold.

There is an awful lot of sh*t flowing in, around and through Oneida County. There too, is a big stench that can be traced right back to the Republican leadership at the Town and County levels who turned a "blind-eye" in these and related matters.

I find it somewhat ironic that Al Picente is LOOKING for someone else to foot the tab for problems created by the Republican controlled County and Town bodies. Al should ask his cousin Joey for the funds to pay for the mistakes allowed to continue.

The DEC could and should get tougher on local governments and it would serve them right.

Strikeslip said...

Thanks, anon . . . but OIN is not a significant part of this issue -- yet. It has already urbanized an area without tapping into Utica area water and sewer services. The problem is that too many local officials regard provision of water and sewer (with no "entrance fee" and with rate or tax payers paying for line extensions) as a proper way to encourage "economic growth" -- it is not and, in this area, has not. It only increases sprawl -- which in our area means more infrastructure to be supported by fewer and fewer people. A recipe for fiscal disaster -- AND environmental degradation.