New York U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced this week more than $2.7 million in funding to help a village in Washington County make upgrades to its faulty sewer system.
The Democrats announced a $2 million grant and $740,000 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development’s Water and Environmental Program for the Village of Whitehall. The Washington County village near the Vermont border will use the funding to make repairs and comply with environmental regulations.
In a release, Senator Schumer said the money “ will take a tremendous financial burden off of the Village and allow Whitehall to begin construction right away on a project that is vital to its long-term prosperity.”
Village mayor Peter Tileski said Whitehall’s antiquated system was build decades ago beneath a community hundreds of years old. The old network of pipes beneath the village originally brought sewage into area waterways.
“We’re talking combined that systems that took storm water and sanitary sewer systems, and put it all in the same pipes and put it right in the rivers,” said Tileski.
Tileski said Whitehall is not alone, and joins many other old communities upstate that have struggled with updating antiquated sewer systems for years. Tilesky said with high taxes and user fees facing customers, and the village’s lack of resources to tackle the problem, it’s been impossible for the taxpayers to bear the burden of updating the system.
Tileski said the federal awards come after years of previous attempts to secure funding.
“Even with all the help of our local senators and assemblypeople at the new York State level, it just was very difficult to find any money,” said Tileski.
The $2.7 million will allow the village to begin construction work to relieve stormwater inflow and infiltration problems on the system.
The announcement of the award came just one week after Senator Gillibrand visited with municipal and economic development leaders from Washington and Warren Counties at Adirondack Community College, where the area’s aging sewer infrastructure was discussed.
Gillibrand cited costs estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on required sewer system infrastructure upgrades.
“EPA did a study in 2012 and they said for Warren County alone it was $100 million worth of sewer and wastewater needs, and Washington County it was $110 million. So it’s a huge need, and it’ a need that hasn’t changed…but it is essential to any growth,” said Gillibrand.
Gillibrand said part of her mission as a member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee is to find ways to send more money to states for infrastructure repairs.
Gillibrand said she is working on legislation with her Republican colleagues on a bill that would create an infrastructure authority that would allow the federal government to facilitate investments to streamline projects through environmental reviews and other various certifications.
“It’s a streamlining opportunity for large-scale long-term projects, so if we can create that, that also creates more money for the state,” said Gillibrand. “So a project of mass transit, for example, can be offset for the governor to provide more money for sewers locally.”
USDA Rural Development’s Water and Environmental Program provides funding targeted toward maintaining safe drinking water and managing wastewater. Senator Gillibrand was recently appointed to the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, the first Senator from New York to sit on the board in nearly four decades.
EDIT: New York Congressman Bill Owens, who also had a hand in securing the funding, released a statement on the awards:
“Safe, reliable sanitation is a basic need for every community,” Congressman Owens said. “The current system in Whitehall has proven to be insufficient and in need of repair and renovation. This USDA funding through the 2014 Farm Bill supports upgrades that will help keep residents safe and prevent significant and recurring harm to the local economy and environment.”