Former city wastewater chief faces year in jail (copy)

City officials lined up abut $25 million in funding through bonding to complete consent decree work on the wastewater and storm water systems this week, and approved applications to seek more than $7.5 million in grant funding to cover the costs. Last month the officials approved about $7 million for the Oswego East Side Wastewater Treatment Plant, pictured above. 

OSWEGO — City officials are seeking more than $7.5 million in state grant funds and plan to borrow nearly $25 million to complete upcoming water and wastewater improvements, much of which is part of the ongoing consent decree to separate the city’s sanitary and storm sewer systems.

The city of Oswego entered into a judicial consent decree with the federal government and New York State in May 2010, with the order requiring the city to separate at least 75 percent of the combined sewer and storm water system at an estimated cost of more than $80 million. With roughly half the work complete, officials are preparing to enter the final phases of the years-long project and lining up funding to complete the work.

The consent decree was initially ordered because of what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called “long-standing problems with unpermitted sewer overflows.” The city’s wastewater and storm water drainage infrastructure were combined in one system, and heavy rainfall would cause a combination of rain and sewage to discharge into the Oswego River.

The consent decree obligated the city to separate at least 75 percent of its combined sewer system, according to the EPA, in addition to taking corrective actions throughout the overall sewer collection and treatment systems.   

“The essence of the consent decree and this project is to separate our sewer system from our storm system,” Mayor Billy Barlow said. “Because we still have an outdated combined system, the amount of sewage we produce combined with the influx of storm water and caused overflows into fresh bodies of water like the Oswego River and Lake Ontario.”

Environmental protection measures aimed at reducing such discharges, along with enforcement from the EPA and state environmental regulators, forced the city into the consent decree to address the discharges.

Barlow said the consent decree is aimed at reducing the number of discharges into the lake and river. Based on city estimates, approximately 377,740 gallons of combined sewage was discharged into the Oswego River each year from an unauthorized overflow and another more than 8 million gallons of sanitary sewage. 

The Oswego Common Council unanimously approved $24.8 million in bonding resolutions to cover the costs of three separate projects, including the sanitary sewer separation, sewer rehabilitation and improvements to water treatment plant.

Officials are seeking a total of $7.6 million in funding through the state Water Infrastructure Improvement Act (WIIA), which provides millions of dollars in grants for municipal water and wastewater upgrades to offset costs, through three separate applications.

In recent years the city has aggressively pursued state and federal funding to alleviate what could have been a nearly $100 million burden on taxpayers to improve wastewater and water systems in the Port City.

Barlow called the grant funding "critical," noting any other funds to complete the work must come from the city's sewer and water accounts, which are funded solely by rate payers. 

"The consent decree project is the reason sewer and water rates went through the roof years ago and oppositely, the $5 million in grant funding we've secure in three years allowed us to lower the rates back down," the mayor said. "Securing this funding will be a huge next step to potentially lowering rates even further."  

The sewer separation project is mandated, and Barlow noted the state and federal government have set forth the scope and schedule of work. He said the city must complete the work regardless of whether the grant funding is awarded.

Consent decree obligations were split into four phases, the second phase, which included the areas around Erie Street, was completed last summer. Barlow said the design and engineering for the third phase is about halfway done, and physical construction for phase three is tentatively scheduled for 2021.

“Spot construction areas involve repairing, replacing and modernizing sewer mains and specific pieces of infrastructure in the system,” the mayor said. “Sewer separation portions of the project are responsible for the heavy construction and detours we’ve grown accustomed to because it involves the actual separating and relocating of the storm and water systems.”

The third phase of the consent decree work runs north-south from W. Cayuga Street to W. Oneida Street, and east-west from Water Street to W. Sixth Street. Barlow said the construction would include both spot rehabilitation work around manholes and catch basin, along with heavy curb-to-curb construction in other areas.

The fourth and final phase of the consent decree work will cover the area that runs north-south from Lake Ontario to Cayuga Street and east-west from Water Street to W. Sixth Street.

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