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In Depth: Contamination crisis

February 20, 2017 07:32 PM

WATERVLIET - Imagine the city you live in notifying you that your home's sanitary sewage is being dumped directly into the Hudson River and you have to pay to fix the problem. A NewsChannel 13 investigation uncovered this is happening to a handful of homeowners in Watervliet.

According to alerts from the Department of Environmental Conservation, 30 gallons of untreated sewage from Watervliet are entering the Hudson River every hour.

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NewsChannel 13 was told on January 30 that four homes had their sanitary line incorrectly connected to a storm sewer line.  When we tried to confirm that information with Watervliet, we were told we needed to contact Gramercy Communications, a public relations firm that represents the city.

Gramercy confirmed some of our information, but when a request to interview the mayor seemed to fall on deaf ears, NewsChannel 13 went directly to City Hall for answers.

Watervliet Mayor Mike Manning says the issue was discovered "approximately a couple of weeks ago."

"We alerted as soon as we found out," he explained.

WEB EXTRA: Watervliet Mayor Mike Manning

During a routine inspection last month, crews should have found little to no discharge at a storm sewer outfall site in Watervliet. However when they noticed soap bubbles, samples were collected and the results tested positive for E. coli.

"We ran a trace up a line and discovered that four homes had their sanitary sewer line connected directly to the storm sewer," explained Manning.

Like many New York communities, Watervliet has combined sewer outflows or CSOs, but the city also has areas with separate sewer systems. One pipe for sanitary sewage is diverted to Albany County for treatment. The other pipe is for storm runoff or snowmelt. That is sent directly into the Hudson.

Each home should have a lateral hooked up to the respective sewer but NewsChannel 13’s Karen Tararache learned that is the not the case with four homes. The Department of Environmental Conservation says their sanitary sewage is illegally connected to the storm sewer pipe.

NewsChannel 13 asked Mayor Manning if all four homeowners are aware they have this issue:

"They've been notified by mail and followed up for confirmation by phone call," he replied. "They’re all aware."

The mayor also says the homeowners are aware they’re on the hook to fix it.

The mayor says the homes affected are all 80 to 100 years old. He says the repair costs can vary from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on how far their property is located from the sanitary sewer.

"I think the city or someone should at least put something into it, you know," explained Sandy Sawyer, a Watervliet resident. "It ain't my mistake. I didn't do it. I didn't hire someone to do it."

Sandy Sawyer has not been contacted by the city, but lives near the discharge site in a home that has been in her family for three generations. Sawyer and her son worry that repetitive clogging issues in her home could be a sign of more serious problems underground.

"I'd like to find out who the four houses are. That’s what I’d like to find out. Talk to them, see if they are having problems, maybe there's a fifth house, you know," she explained.

NewsChannel 13 tried on several occasions to get the addresses of the homes affected from Gramercy. Once again, they are the public relations firm representing the city. Ultimately, our requests were denied.

"It's really minor on the scale of just compared to the CSOs," pointed out Manning.

NewsChannel 13’s Karen Tararache asked: "You can understand how avoiding us makes it look like it's a bigger problem?"

"Yeah, I don't think that was the intent," he replied. "We were just trying to get our arms around it and to protect them and their privacy."

In the meantime, the issue will persist until spring, when ground can be broken. The mayor says the city is doing their part to find grants and loans to help the homeowners with the cost of repairs.

"It’s clearly none of the current homeowners’ fault that this happened," assured Manning. "They're all older homes."

Again, it may not be the homeowners’ fault but they will have to pay thousands of dollars for the repairs.

There is no deadline yet, but the Department of Environmental Conservation tells NewsChannel 13 there will be at some point.

If you have been contacted and have more questions, you can email Karen Tararache at ktararache@wnyt.com.

NewsChannel 13’s Karen Tararache asked the mayor if there could be more homes with the same issue. You can find his answer and her entire interview with him on our website in "Links" at WNYT.com, or embedded in this story.

Credits

Karen Tararache

Copyright 2017 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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