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Repairs to Niagara Falls sewage plant will cost at least $2 million

NIAGARA FALLS – The estimated cost to repair damage at the city’s sewage treatment plant from last week’s storm is pegged at about $2 million, officials said Wednesday.

But that figure may rise if damage to the Buffalo Avenue plant’s main pumps means that they have to be replaced instead of just fixed.

The Falls facility, which also treats wastewater from parts of the Town of Niagara, has been mostly shut down since about 10:30 p.m. Friday. The areas of Belden Center, Tuscarora Road and Cayuga Village in the Town of Niagara sustained damage because of the plant shutdown, Town Supervisor Steve Richards said.

Because of the flooding that shut the plant down, at least 25 million gallons of untreated sewage waste has been flowing into the lower Niagara River per day, said Paul J. Drof, executive director of the Niagara Falls Water Board, which operates the wastewater plant.

The plant has been able to treat between 15 million and 18 million gallons of sewage a day from the city’s North End, which has its waste pumped to the plant from the Gorge pump station.

Crews have been working 24 hours a day at the plant trying to make repairs to get it back into operation. Workers from a number of area contractors, including Ferguson Election, O’Connell Electric, Volland Electric, J.W. Danforth, Godwin Pumps and Niagara Vacuum are on hand at the plant.

Crews are installing five temporary pumps at the plant as work continues to repair the main pumps, said Richard Roll, technical and regulatory services director for the Water Board.

Plans are to power up the first temporary pump early this morning, Roll said.

But even when all temporary pumps are running, the plant will only be able to treat about 30 million gallons a day, or its typical dry-weather capacity. Full, wet-weather capacity won’t be back until at least one of the main pumps is back online.

One of the main pumps could be fixed and online by late today or early Friday if no defects are found, Roll said.

Several public officials toured the damaged plant on Wednesday afternoon.

The first step in trying to obtain federal and/or state aid will be making an application for funding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said State Sen. George D. Maziarz, who was among those who toured the plant.

Local officials have had conversations with federal representatives and are “cautiously optimistic” there may be federal aid available for damage to municipal systems, Maziarz said.

If no federal money is available, Maziarz said, the state is expected to help, as it did for Lockport, which was hit by a storm June 28.

“I assume we’re going to go through the same process here,” he said. “We’re going to go through the federal government first.”

The state will assist in applying to the federal government for funding from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which provides financial assistance to facilities to prevent damage from natural disasters.

Also on the plant tour was Matthew J. Driscoll, president and CEO of the state Environmental Facilities Corp., a public authority that aids in environmental projects related to water and wastewater.

“I think really the first order of business here is to really start thinking about how we’re going to protect this facility from future flooding events,” Driscoll said.

Officials also said Wednesday that area residents in any municipality who suffered property damage should contact state Department of Financial Services officials who have set up a mobile command center outside Niagara Falls City Hall.

That means residents of the Town of Niagara, City of North Tonawanda and any other communities facing damage from the storm – not just residents of Niagara Falls – can find assistance from state officials at the mobile command center.

The center will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.

For those who cannot apply in person, they can call 286-4300 and speak to someone who will help fill out paperwork over the phone.

North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt said his city also has also requested emergency assistance from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office due to the number of residents who sustained significant property damage from Friday’s thunderstorms. He also wanted to remind his residents and businesses affected by the storm that they also may use the services of state officials.

“This mobile unit from the state is here to service any resident or business affected by the recent storm. It is not only for Niagara Falls residents and I am upset that more people outside the City of Niagara Falls, who were affected by the storm, were not made aware that these folks would be available.”

“I would like to thank Gov. Cuomo for making them available and for recognizing the seriousness of this weather event,” Ortt added.

Ortt also noted that North Tonawanda will continue to pick up any bulk items damaged as a result of the storm. In addition, any tree branches or brush related to the storm damage can be placed at the curb. The Department of Public Works will be making runs to pick up these materials for the remainder of the week.

News Niagara Reporter Nancy A. Fischer contributed to this report. email: