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Source: WAMC: Northeast Public Radio

Sewer And Water Infrastructure Funding Praised

BY PAT BRADLEY

Posted: April 3, 2015
Originally Published: April 1, 2015

Debate is continuing over the new budget deal reached late last night in Albany, but environmental and conservation groups are praising the inclusion of $200 million in New York’s new budget for water and sewer infrastructure projects.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates the need for wastewater infrastructure repairs over the next two decades across the state totals $36 billion. The Department of Health says the need for drinking water infrastructure repairs is nearly $39 billion. Communities have not had a funding mechanism to help close that $75 billion dollars in need.

The newly passed budget includes $200 million in state matching grants for water and sewer infrastructure projects. Under the three-year program, the state will cover up to 60 percent of a municipality’s project cost, with a cap of $5 million per project.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito says the funding is crucial. “A lot of our sewage infrastructures around the state is old. It’s antiquated. It’s literally falling apart. In some areas throughout the state we still have clay pipes. The federal government used to put funding in for this kind of infrastructure. They’re not doing that anymore. The state is basically not doing it anymore and the local municipalities that own the sewage treatment plants can’t really afford to have that entire financial burden strapped on the local taxpayers’ backs. We need a funding source.”

Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay says the funding is a great first step toward meeting the infrastructure needs. “Local municipalities struggling against the 2 percent tax cap, trying to keep budgets down will be able to get up to $5 million in any given year to foster projects that may have been left languishing because of budgetary pressures. When I talk to some of the mayors they say ‘$5 million, are you kidding. You know how much I could do with $5 million in grants?’ As opposed to currently they’re only able to get loans. So the need’s enormous and this isn’t a frill. This is pretty foundational.”

John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council notes that there is much more need than money, but the legislature has provided a good start. “One of the most important parts of this program from the state is that it will provide grants instead of just loans. This program is something that will be helpful to communities across the park. We know that there are dozens in both Regions 5 and 6 of the DEC, which covers the eastern and western sides of the Adirondacks, together they represent about a billion dollars all told in investment that needs to be made. But making this 200 million in assistance from the state available will definitely help get a large portion of those projects completed.”

Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz says the need for sewer and water infrastructure upgrades is a huge public health and environmental issue. “It’s three years worth of funding. So $200 million has been committed under the state’s capital budget. It’s definitely something that groups and communities have to insure is protected going forward. Last night during the Senate debate there was a robust discussion about the need. Senate Finance Chair DeFrancisco, who’s a strong champion of this program, said on the Senate floor we know this is just a down payment and we’ll have to provide more money in this pot in the future. I think a lot of people think that this is a wonderful new program in the state budget, providing grants to local governments to help them draw down the costs of waste water infrastructure and clean drinking water infrastructure. I really think there’s no turning back on this type of a program to meet the enormous needs over the next twenty years.”

According to figures reported to the state Environmental Facilities Corporation and cited by Riverkeeper, 61 of New York’s 62 counties have identified wastewater treatment projects requiring $12.7 billion in immediate financial need.

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