NewsChannel 13 Investigates: Contamination crisis

July 20, 2017 10:25 AM

NewsChannel 13 the first to tell you about a sewage leak in Amsterdam last July. The city has made some repairs since then, but has still not found the source responsible for the contaminated groundwater discharge. So is the city doing all it can and is New York State doing its part?

There was no formal Q & A at an event last week promoting the modernization of infrastructure to Schenectady’s train station, but NewsChannel 13’s Karen Tararache thought it would be the perfect opportunity to ask Governor Cuomo directly, why more hasn't been done this past year to help cities repair their aging underground sewage systems. 


"Modernizing infrastructure, yet repairs have not been made in Amsterdam. 4.4 million gallons of sewage continue to flow even today. Last year, your administration gave $5 million to the city. What's the state been doing since then," Karen asked the governor.

"Well, it's not what the state has been doing. What the state has been investing more money than in history," he replied.

WEB EXTRA: Full exchange with Gov. Cuomo on infrastructure modernization

Governor Cuomo cited legislation he signed this April, approving $2.5 billion for clean water infrastructure as proof that the state of New York is doing its part.

How quickly shovels are being put into the ground, he says, depends on each municipality.

"Some local governments are moving very fast. I can tell you that. Some local governments don't move as quickly," explained the governor.

"Ultimately, it's up to you and the city of Amsterdam to address these issues, how do you respond to that," Karen asked Mayor Mike Villa of Amsterdam.

"That's asking the taxpayers a lot. That's putting a lot of debt onto your card that really, you know, we have a tough time, we have other things besides infrastructure," explained Villa.

He says his office has been proactive, applying for state funding, months before the July sewage spill last year.

An approved $5 million was meant to address issues at the city’s pump stations in order to mitigate combined sewer overflows into the Mohawk River. From those same funds, excavation work was set to begin this past Monday at Sloan Avenue to find the source of the leak down the hill at Forest Avenue, but weather will force that start date to be rescheduled.

"Why wait until July 17, why didn't work start in the spring," Karen asked.

"We're still waiting for parts," answered Villa.

"Handling an emergency is way more expensive than handling something in the normal course," pointed out James Tierney, the Department of Environmental Conservation deputy commissioner of water.

He reiterates this issue isn't exclusive to Amsterdam, adding both grants and zero percent interest loans are awarded to create a level of responsibility and partnership among state and city.

WEB EXTRA: DEC deputy commissioner of water on why sewage cleanup projects take so long to complete

"Local governments need to have some skin in the game," asserted Tierney.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara also explains $10 million is available for new infrastructure emergencies, accessed through an online application and approved within two days.

"If that were to happen again, we would see a quicker process, a more expedited process," explained Santabarbara.

Some say regardless of the progress being made, there’s no disputing contaminants have and will continue to pollute our rivers, leaving you at the risk for infection.

"People should be concerned. You just don’t want your kid playing in water that’s contaminated with human feces," acknowledged Dr. David Carpenter the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment.

Karen checked on the progress of Senator George Amedore's legislation, which would devote $100 million of unused settlement funds to emergency infrastructure repairs. It remains in Finance Committee as it did at last check in February.

Until the source of the leak at Forest Avenue is found and fixed, 10 gallons per minute of contaminated water continues to flow into the creek and Mohawk River.

Courtesy: DEC

DEC continues to work closely with the City of Amsterdam on their ongoing repairs to their aging wastewater infrastructure.  Approximately $2 million has been allocated to projects that have either been completed or are in construction, and the remaining projects totaling $3 million will be going out to bid in the next 4-6 weeks. The sewer work related to the N. Chuctanunda Creek consists of items 2 and 10 below and total more than $900,000. 







West Side PS Emergency Repairs





Forest Ave. Emergency Repairs





West Main Street Emergency Repairs





St. John Street Emergency Repairs





Contract No. 1 -  ESPS Bar Screen





Contract No. 2 - ESPS & WWTP GC Work



bid July/August


Contract No. 3 - ESPS & WWTP Elec Work



bid July/August


Contract No. 4 - WSPS & SSPS GC Work



bid August/September


Contract No. 5 - WSPS & SSPS Elec Work



bid August/September


Contract No. 6 - Sloane Ave Area Work



in construction


Contract No. 7 - Sanitary Sewer Repairs



bid August/September

Note: GC means general construction, PS means pump station, ESPS means East Side Pump Station, SSPS means South Side Pump Station


Karen Tararache

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