Cheektowaga officials have relented and agreed with the state’s proposal to curb sewage overflows into area waterways by first addressing all of the downspouts and sump pumps illegally discharging into the sanitary sewer.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has called those discharges the root of the sewer overflow problem and has wanted the town to curb overflows at the source rather than store or redirect them.
“Cheektowaga has agreed to the DEC request. Everyone now is on the same page,” said State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo.
Kennedy arranged for the town’s elected leaders and engineers to meet last week with state officials from the DEC, the Environmental Facilities Corp. and Empire State Development. “It was a spectacular meeting,” Kennedy said. “We got some productivity out of the meeting.”
Until now, Cheektowaga had favored a two-pronged approach to reduce and eliminate sewage discharge into area creeks. The town wanted to construct overflow storage ponds at two of its pump stations, and make infrastructure improvements to redirect wastewater from areas prone to overflow during wet weather.
When it rains or snow melts rapidly, the town’s sanitary sewer system is inundated with excess storm water, resulting in sewage overflows into the Buffalo River and area creeks.
Some of the overflows pour into Scajaquada Creek and contribute to the stench and water quality problems at some of Buffalo’s most picturesque spots, like Mirror Lake near the Buffalo History Museum and Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park.
Town and state environmental officials were at loggerheads over each side’s proposed solutions.
“This has gone on long enough,” Kennedy said. “I’m impatient for change, generally speaking, but this needed to be done yesterday.”
Kennedy would not elaborate on what eased the town’s position over how to resolve the disagreement, but he said the face-to-face dialogue opened up lines of communication between the two sides. He said that no “arm-twisting” by the state took place at the meeting.
Staff from the state Environmental Facilities Corp. were present to discuss financial-assistance options that the town could pursue.
Town officials could not be reached to comment.
Kennedy said that tensions between the town and DEC have eased and that a follow-up meeting is planned in the next week or two.
Officials from the state agencies, along with town engineers, are expected to pull together specifics of what needs to be done to begin fixing Cheektowaga’s sewer system. Kennedy said a DEC “point person” would be assigned to Cheektowaga’s case. State officials also will help the town apply through the Environmental Facilities Corp. to tap into the state’s $50 million set aside for these types of projects.
“Getting to the bottom of this and getting past their differences was essential to moving forward,” Kennedy said. “I’m optimistic the channels are now open.”
Cheektowaga faces a large problem of storm water infiltrating into its sanitary sewer system, mainly from illegal tie-ins of sump pumps, drains and gutter downspouts on private property. During heavy rains, those sources on private property add massive volumes of water to the sanitary system, overwhelming it and resulting in sewage overflows.
But town officials do not know exactly how widespread the illegal tie-ins have become. “Because private sources are a large contributor to the stated problem, a long and tedious process is required to locate all of the sources and implement corrections to eliminate the inflow and infiltration throughout the system,” Town Engineer Patrick T. Bowen said in a previous letter to the DEC. “Many years will pass prior to realizing significant improvement and impact to Scajaquada Creek and Hoyt Lake.”
But the DEC has said similar programs to fix those issues – and levying fines against property owners in violation – drastically reduced sewage overflows or eliminated them all together in the towns of Amherst, Tonawanda and West Seneca.
The DEC twice shot down the town’s plan for retention overflow facilities and relief sewers, most recently in late September, contending that the town wasn’t pursuing the most cost-effective solution to the problem.
Meanwhile, millions of gallons of untreated sewage are released by Cheektowaga’s sanitary sewer system into area creeks and streams during rains or snowmelt.
On Oct. 13, sewage discharge reports revealed the town’s Clinton Street plant discharged 1.5 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Buffalo River after one-third of an inch of rain fell over two days.
Four days earlier, millions of gallons of untreated sewage from Cheektowaga facilities poured into Scajaquada Creek and the Buffalo River, when just more than an inch of rain fell Oct. 8 and 9.
Those attending last week’s meeting included Supervisor Mary F. Holtz, Bowen and representatives from the town’s engineering firm, Nussbaumer & Clarke.
The state delegation included DEC Regional Director Abby M. Snyder and Joseph DiMura, director of the DEC’s Bureau of Water Compliance. Besides Kennedy, others included Sam Hoyt, the regional president for Empire State Development.
The meeting was held at the Alexander Community Center, which happens to overlook the banks of Scajaquada Creek.