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Source of Scajaquada Creek pollution will be tackled with state grant

Cheektowaga will get a little bit cleaner.

The lands and waters beyond its borders – including places in Buffalo that many people visit – should too.

The source of the raw sewage that pollutes Scajaquada Creek will be soon tackled, thanks to new funding.

Cheektowaga, whose sanitary system spills millions of gallons of sewage and pollution into Scajaquada Creek and other area waterways, will receive a $5 million grant as part of a $20 million effort to fix the aging wastewater infrastructure.

The $5 million Water Infrastructure Improvement Act grant will be accompanied by $15 million in interest-free state loans.

“It’s no secret that Cheektowaga’s aging sewer system is badly in need of an overhaul,” State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, said in announcing the state grant.

The funds “will enable the Town of Cheektowaga to do its part in protecting waterways,” he said.

The town is under a state and federal consent order to cut overflows of sewage into area waterways, which occur when it rains or during heavy runoff of melting snow. The order compels the town to modernize its operations to reduce the pollution overflowing into creeks and streams.

“This is a great day for Cheektowaga,” said Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation instructed the town to fast-track fixes of its problem of ground water infiltrating its sanitary sewer system either through cracked pipes or illegally connected downspouts and sump pumps.

The town and DEC had been at odds over how to best deal with the problem, but, following a series of meetings facilitated by Kennedy last year that also included the state’s Environmental Facilities Corp., an agreement was struck to help provide needed funding to the town.

The sewer improvements will impact property owners in Cheektowaga, who will have to remove illegal tie-ins to the town’s sanitary system from downspouts, sump pumps and yard drainage systems.

Although town ordinances forbid them, the tie-ins are so widespread officials don’t know how many exist – or where all of them are.

But similar efforts have been carried out successfully in the towns of Amherst, Tonawanda and West Seneca. Fines were imposed against property owners in violation, and sewage overflows were drastically reduced.

Runoff from Cheektowaga has long been identified as the major cause of pollution in Scajaquada Creek in Buffalo.

The waterway, buried at Pine Ridge Road in Cheektowaga in the 1920s, emerges from its four-mile underground section into Forest Lawn and feeds into Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park.

Debris carried downstream, including shopping carts, refrigerators, picnic tables and untreated sewage, collects at the end of the culvert just inside the Main Street gates of the cemetery.

The Buffalo Sewer Authority is undertaking a nearly $2 million project to clean up the waterway within the cemetery.

The work at Forest Lawn was initiated from a more than three-year partnership involving the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Forest Lawn Heritage Foundation. Funding was obtained through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, state Dormitory Authority as well as local foundations and private donors.

Work, which includes dredging some of the most contaminated sediment in a stretch of the creek just east of the Delaware Avenue S-curves and creating a three-acre “backwater wetland,” is expected to be completed over the next two to three years.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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