Monday, October 19, 2009

Should Incompetence Be Rewarded?

OD's View: Leaders must find help to fix sewer system
. . . The total tab officials say is necessary to prevent pollution of the Mohawk River: $158 million. Government leaders searching for funding so far have come up empty, and that would mean adding an additional $600 a year to every user’s sewer tax bill.

That’s not acceptable. While taxpayers will have to shoulder some of the cost to upgrade this necessary service, leaders at the state and federal level will need to do what we elect them to do — find grants and/or other revenue sources to help.

The problem is the sewer district’s aging infrastructure. During heavy rain and snow melts, storm water floods into the sanitary system and forces raw sewage into the river. In 2007, the sewer district was slapped with a consent order by the state Department of Environmental Conservation requiring that problems along the Sauquoit Creek line be fixed by Oct. 31, 2014. . . .

This editorial is so far off the mark that it is not funny. While the area's aging infrastructure is an expensive problem that every community will eventually have to deal with, it is not 'the problem' here. 'The problem' here that will cost $158 million to fix was a VIOLATION OF LAW.

When the Federal Government set up the Clean Water Act, it recognized that older communities (such as Utica and our Villages) that had combined stormwater-sanitary sewers could never afford to retrofit their systems to the modern standard of separate lines for sanitary waste and storm water. Looking at the cost-benefit ratio, lawmakers allowed for Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) to exist that would spill very dilute waste from these older systems into the river during severe rain events as opposed to backing it up into people's homes. Over time, these older systems would gradually be brought under more stringent standards, hopefully at a pace that the communities could afford. The law made an exception to preserve the finances of older communities.

However, that exception was lost when the County allowed new separated waste lines to connect to the older systems. While these actions permitted Oneida County and certain suburban jurisdictions to greatly expand their tax bases with new 'growth' on the cheap, they also resulted in the Yorkville CSO being reclassified as an illegal Sanitary Sewer Overflow. Now because they no longer qualify for special treatment under the Clean Water Act, suburban jurisdictions must now bear the cost that the law had hoped they would avoid. The Villages, unfortunately, which saw relatively little 'growth' will now bear the brunt of these costs.

Those running our County sewer system, and suburban planners, should have seen this coming. Either they were blind to it, or they were more interested in fostering 'growth' than environmental protection. Regardless . . .

Is it appropriate to expect grants to pay for local incompetence? That is what The Observer-Dispatch seems to be asking for. . . .

And is it appropriate that we the public who will pay for this keep the same people in charge? That is something we need to decide between now and November.

1 comment:

Greens and Beans said...

This begs the question as to what has caused this abuse of our environment. Was it greed? Did the elected officials allow the Developers to excessively profit to subsequently reciprocate at reelection time? Was it incompetence? Did the County, Town and Village elected officials simply not know any better? Was it laziness? Did those who did know better allow the ignorant and/or shady ones to break the law? Or is it a very distasteful blend of all of the above? And what role did the relative silence of the media play in this blunder? Does the news media understand that they should investigate to objectively look into all of the above angles that produced this problem?

In the case of one Town Board, it appears that there is little doubt that all of the above scenarios came into play. We elect (employ) State, County, Town and Village officials to safeguard our environment and protect us from costly fixes and fines when blatant disregard for the law occurs. We also expect the news media to expose these officials even if the problem comes to light close to election time. The real victims of all of this are the residents whom the elected politicians and their army of politically appointed “specialists” who we compensate to represent and protect us from this type of tragedy.