Facing a state-imposed deadline and the prospect of heavy daily fines, Amherst Town Board members reluctantly agreed Tuesday to stop the town's discharges of untreated sewage waste at three locations in Eggertsville.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation also wants Amherst to pay a $5,000 fine for past sewage discharges and commit to repair or rebuild sewers on Kings Highway, North Drive and Capen Boulevard -- where the town has released sewage during heavy storm-water runoffs.
Repairs are estimated to cost nearly $5 million, prompting town officials to complain that the state is giving them too little time to cure the problems and leaving Amherst no choice but to accept the state's terms.
"This isn't the way one government deals with another. It makes us look guilty, like a criminal," Council Member Daniel J. Ward complained during an afternoon work session.
Ward and other board members said they were just hearing about the state's proposals for the first time and the estimated costs to end the discharges will hit hard for sewer district customers in Eggertsville.
But the town has little to complain about, Supervisor Satish B. Mohan said.
"We can't deny the fact that we were wrong," Mohan said. "This is a quality-of-life issue. We'll find money, and we'll do it."
In the end, the board agreed, passing the measure, 5-2, after Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones said the state wanted to settle the matter before the town's next meeting.
Jones also warned the board that the town faces daily fines of up to $37,000 for continuing to discharge the untreated sewage.
Gerard A. Palumbo, a water engineer with the DEC's Buffalo office who attended the working session to outline the state's consent order, said all local governments are being asked to pay a fine for past discharges of sewage.
And he said the town should be able to cure the problems causing the discharges within a reasonable period that is agreeable to the town and state officials.
During wet periods, Amherst pumps the untreated wastes into storm sewers. The annual amount pumped equals about one-tenth of one percent of its annual amount treated by the town.
Eggertsville's sewers, some of them 80 years old and made of clay, are prone to leaks and infiltration. State officials noted that they were aware of the discharges and of the town's attempts to eliminate them over the years. They now want to eliminate the last three problem sites, he said.
Some town officials have suggested merging the town's sewer districts, allowing the cost of the sewer repairs to be spread to a much larger base.
But Ward, who with Council Member Deborah B. Bucki voted against the measure, said he believes the town and the state have both mishandled the matter.