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Upstate Cities Didn't Report Big Sewage Spills On Time

Riverkeeper patrol boat Capt. John Lipscomb
Swimmers in the Hudson River in the Capital Region in 2015.

Albany and Troy have reportedly been dumping sewage into the Hudson River and not reporting it in a timely manner.

Recent heavy rains throughout the Capital Region proved troublesome for Albany and Troy: both cities handle stormwater and sanitary sewage via combined systems that let wastewater enter the river rather than overwhelm treatment plants.

In the last two weeks, Albany has spilled 4 million gallons of sewage into the Hudson River, while Troy has spilled a lesser amount —   and failed to comply with state requirements for reporting the incident.

A Times Union report over the weekendwas the first that some local officials even heard about the issue.

Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck lives in Rensselear County:  "A lot of people think we solved the sewage problem back in the '70s and '80s, but in fact, it remains a very serious problem in the Capital District. So, new state funding is on the way, but it needs to arrive rapidly and we need even more of it, and unfortunately it comes at a time when the Trump administration is dismantling the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. This would be a good time for the EPA to really step up, make sure that the Clean Water Act is fully enforced, and equally important, have the Congress provide new federal funding to help municipalities deal with this ongoing, and I would argue, urgent water quality issue."

Albany did file notice with the state Department of Environmental Conservation Friday afternoon. Reports indicate spillage began June 23rd and should have been reported to the agency within two hours, and the public should have been told within four hours.   DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald:  "DEC reserves the right to pursue actions against municipalities for failure to comply with incident reporting requirements, and as a result of recent wet weather with limited discharge reporting, DEC will continue to investigate the potential for unreported combined sewer overflows."

Albany Water Commissioner Joe Coffey told the Times Union the lack of reporting was due to "human error ... our foreman was off and the hand-off for reporting did not get made properly." He added that procedure has been changed to avoid any similar occurrence in the future.

A lesser sewage spill also commenced June 23rd across the river in Troy, which City Council President Carmella Mantello says she learned about by reading the newspaper account.  "This was not reported by the city of Troy. The council was unaware, we were not informed even after the mayor was contacted about the spillage. The council was not aware, the public was not aware. It's a troubling pattern with this present administration, not revealing and contacting the public on major issues such as this or contacting the council."

Mantello has asked the Chair of the City Council Public Utilities Committee immediately call a public meeting with the Madden administration to discuss the matter.

The mayor's office responded to a request for comment by email, stating the office "Won't be able to get back to you until later today." As of Friday, Troy had not filed notice with the DEC.  Riverkeeper Water Quality Program Director Dan Shapley says it’s critical that spills are reported publicly and promptly.  "Communities have done a very good job of creating a website atalbanypool.org which provides real time predictions about when overflows are going to be occurring, so people should know that they can check that site and be aware of overflows in the Capital District."

Again, DEC’s Ringewald.   "Enforcement policy is based on the size of the violator, environmental impact, cooperation, compliance history, and inflation. Like most water pollution violations, the maximum penalty under state law is up to $37,500 per day, per violation."

She added that DEC aggressively monitors such overflows and other wastewater discharges in order to ensure protection of public health and the environment.

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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