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Orange County Officials Mull Over Harriman Treatment Plant's Fate

Troubles with an outdated sewage treatment plant have officials in Orange County looking for options and alternatives... Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports.

Last year, waters from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee overwhelmed the 40-year old Harriman treatment facility beyond anything seen previously, compromising its processing ability to the point where the plant was discharging more wastewater than allowable into the Ramapo River. Activists insist water quality vigilance must continue.

The shortcomings of the Harriman plant have attracted the attention of the Department of Environmental Conservation, which cited the facility for numerous permit violations, including the discharge of more waste than allowed for 19 of the last 24 months.

Orange County lawmakers are considering whether to spend a Million dollars in surplus funds on a sewage study - a "facility plan" that could result in resurrecting old plans the Town of Chester once developed to put up a new plant on the Blue Meadow Creek. Officials say a facility in the Chester area would effectively expand Orange County's ability to handle wastewater from homes and businesses in eight towns and villages.

Orange County Spokesperson Kristin Jensen: "At this point, there is no plant planned. The purpose of the Facility Plan is to determine the most desirable location for increased treatment capacity. Increased treatment capacity is indicated based upon 2011 flows into the Harriman wastewater treatment plant."

The 1 million dollar figure represents a "first installment" of an expansion study that comes with a 2 Million dollar pricetag.  Officials say it could be funded by a 4 and a half million dollar surplus generated by sewer users in municpalities that use the Harriman plant. Jensen says the funding request cleared two committees in November and is under discussion: "The Facility Plan is expected to take place over several years. After which time, recommendations will be made to the County Executive and the Legislature. The first step is to get legislative approval."

That approval could come any time. Environmentalists promise they'll be watching from the wings - Riverkeeper's Paul Gallay says municipalities should be mindful of the ecological need to keep our rivers clean.

Deputy Public Works Commissioner Pete Hammond was not available for comment - he was quoted in the Times Herald Record saying the county was responding to pressure from the DEC, which he says demanded a "flow management plan" for the Harriman plant in February after citing the county for numerous permit violations.  If alternative plans don't pan out, the DEC could be asked to approve an upgrade at Harriman. DEC officials did not return calls for comment in time for broadcast.

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.