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Troy Officials Eye Water Fund After Main Break

This is the site of the Troy water main break on the day after.
WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

Crews are at the scene preparing to fix a ruptured water main that flooded homes and businesses in the Lansingburgh section of Troy over the weekend.

Work is under way on the more-than-a-century-old cast iron pipe that split open around 7 a.m. Sunday, spilling millions of gallons of water into the streets of Troy.  Mayor Patrick Madden declared a state of emergency and asked residents to limit their water usage.

Troy City Council President Carmella Mantello suggests the state or federal government consider issuing bonds issue to help bolster infrastructure in upstate cities. "Because municipalities like ours, we're putting band-aids on our infrastructure. It's critical for public safety, public health. Obviously, economic development, quality of life and our tax base. So I think the time is now for our federal and state reps to really address the need."

That need has already commanded some attention: The Albany Times Union cited state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's audit and budget reviews, reporting Troy drew $6.2 million out of the water fund to balance its budget from 2012-14, thus has no contingency funds set aside for the water department this year.

Councilor Mark McGrath says Troy didn't spend it all.  "The water fund is still healthy. The water fund has to be seperated, and this is exactly why under municipal rule your water fund has to be seperated from your general fund. What can happen is that they can spend the interest on the money it makes in the water fund, which they've done. And it's not a good thing. You will find with the state audits they were highly criticized for doing it. But there still is money there. The bigger picture is, the city of Troy, like all municipalities up here, it's an old city and these pipes are like a hundred years old. And there's 40 miles of pipes that run under the city of Troy. 40 miles. Now, to replace that, you're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.

McGrath adds that Troy may have dodged a bullet this time: he says Tuesday morning city crews cleared soil from beneath the pipe, clearing the way for Troy Boiler Works personnel to measure the break and prepare a plate to repair it.   "I think initially people felt that we would have to sub out the excavation and everything, but no, our crews are doing it themselves. I was up there with them this morning, they were awfully close to the foot and a half goal where the welders can crawl under - I mean certainly it's gonna cost us with Troy Boiler but we've worked with them for years, and I think they're quite reasonable."

Although residents may find discolored water, there is still no boil water order. The break has affected other municipalities. "Water emergencies" have also been declared in the town of East Greenbush and the city of Rensselaer where residents have been instructed to cut back on indoor water use as much as possible and not run any water outdoors.

Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino:  "Unfortunately, these types of infrastructure failures are happening much more often and they place a tremendous financial burden on localities as well as our residents and businesses that rely on the basic necessity of safe clean drinking water. Hopefully the efforts continuing to be put forth by the city will bring a speedy restoration to full operations. We'll continue to make our public safety and public health department personnell available to the city if there's a way that we can help."

The break also impacted Saratoga County residents in Waterford, Halfmoon and Mechanicville, shuttering businesses like car washes and laundromats.

Waterford-Halfmoon Union Free School District, St. Mary’s School in Waterford and Mechanicville City School District all closed schools Tuesday. A Mechanicville official says that while the city has its own water source, the school is actually located in the town of Halfmoon.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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