April 27, 2004

Cortland Road Sewer District complexities

[Note: I wrote this last week but held it for documents I'd requested from the Town under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Most of those are now enclosed, but there's one document here which the Town didn't have, and I only requested it from the Village today. It doesn't make sense to hold up the story further, so I'll update it with that extra document when I get it. Update: It's there now.]

Nearly two hours of intense discussion about the Cortland Road Sewer District between the Town of Dryden and Village of Dryden boards Wednesday produced a list of issues to resolve and a few conversational highlights.

The contract for the Cortland Road Sewer District apparently expired in 2002, though it was worded vaguely enough that the expiration wasn't clear. The Town Board took steps at their last meeting to make billing in the Cortland Road Sewer District more like the billing in the Village, based on usage, removing one issue.

Most members of the Village and Town Boards were there, but the attorneys were not; the hope was that the two groups could decide on the content that needed to go into a new agreement and then have the attorneys draft language reflecting that agreement. The conversation started with a proposed new agreement (541KB PDF) and copies of the old agreement (573 KB PDF), though there were concerns about how to tell what had changed. Jon Bradley, Village of Dryden Public Works Superintendent, said that too much had changed structurally for redlining to be easy. Town Councilman Chris Michaels still hoped to make it work.

Mayor Reba Taylor of Dryden also had a list of almost half a million dollars of work the Village had done and never charged back to the Town (37KB PDF), though that may now be "water under the bridge".

Village Mayor Reba Taylor speaks to the joint meeting
Village Mayor Reba Taylor speaks to the joint meeting

The biggest issues seemed to be the nature of costs in supporting the district and how best to distribute them. The Town's users pay both a usage fee (at 1.25 times the Village rate) and a water district tax, while Village users pay only a usage fee.

The costs of the system affect the two parties in a variety of ways. The Village has borne most of the burden in identifying problems in the system and frequently helps out - Mayor Taylor brought up how the old Dunkin' Donuts (now Todi's Pizzeria) used to "lift manhole covers with the grease in their lines", and the Village's greater ability to collect and analyze data about the performance of the system came up frequently. The Village also has primary responsibility for operating and maintaining the sewage treatment plant. The Town has been responsible for its own lines, but limited capacity on the Village lines means that the Village may be asking the Town to build separate "interceptor" lines to carry sewage to the treatment plant more directly.

Superintendent Bradley felt that the Village's provision of services to the Town was costing the Village a lot of money. He said that when "I heard Supervisor Varvayanis's proposal [for the Town to build its own sewer plant], I shouted for joy... the Village can get by with a lot less sewer plant without the Town, since there's not that much more to develop." If the Town built its own plant, that would cost the Town much more, but remove a lot of the strain on the Village.

One of the most complicating factors, brought up by Mayor Taylor at the start of the meeting, but never addressed in depth, was the amount of development the Town is planning to permit or encourage around the Village, and how much additional load that would place on the Village's sewer system. The future land use map (301KB PDF) in the Town's Draft Comprehensive Plan shows a lot of suburban residential development in areas just outside the Village. While there is some discussion of cost for water and sewer services on page 76 of the draft plan, the Village's current assessment of upgrades to their plant are vastly complicated by uncertainty about how much capacity they'll need in the future.

Another complication, though a problem in the present rather than in the future, is the unclear position of two of the biggest users in the sewer district - Dryden Middle and High Schools, and Tompkins-Cortland Community College. The original contract with the schools (477 KB PDF), which was with the Village and became the Town's reponsibility when the Cortland Road Sewer District was formed, is long since expired. TC3 presents particular problems, as its lines seem to be the culprit for massive infiltration when it rains, forcing the sewage plant to support much higher peak capacity than it should.

After much circling around and through these issues, Councilman Michaels proposed a summary of steps needed to move forward. The first - adjusting the terms of the Town sewer district to match those of the Village more closely, was already done. The remaining steps include:

  1. Updating the ordinances for the sewer district to better handle a variety of concerns raised;
  2. Stopping the infiltration problems flooding the plant with water;
  3. Assigning responsibility for monitoring the system and identifying problems;
  4. Assigning responsibility for fixing problems and enforcing rules for the system's use;
  5. Sorting out who pays for pipes the Town uses through the Village and how.

Councilman Mike Hattery suggested that updating the contracts between the Town and its largest users - TC3 and the schools - was also a concern, though Michaels suggested it could be addressed by ordinance. There were also questions about what might happen to all of these costs if the Village annexed the sewer district or parts of it, and how costs in the Town should be shared by new districts and the existing district if new sewer districts relying on the Village's treatment plant are formed.

While Michaels concluded optimistically by saying that "we have a lot of work to do, but we're not so far apart", it's clear that there are an enormous number of issues to work out to build a coherent and workable contract.

One of the Town's consultants, Chuck Franzese of Hunt Engineers, provided some concrete evidence that resolving this issues is possible, citing his own experience as a Councilman in the Town of Dix, in Schuyler County. Dix had to iron out a lot of issues to connect its sewer district (which includes Watkins Glen International racetrack) with the Village of Watkins Glen. It didn't sound easy, but it did, in the end, get accomplished.

Posted by simon at April 27, 2004 5:21 PM in , , ,
Note on photos