When a water main breaks it can poke a hole in a municipal budget. Some local leaders are renewing their call for establishment of an emergency water infrastructure fund for New York.
The bill that would create "the Emergency Water Infrastructure Repair Fund" is the brainchild of state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, who on Monday was joined at Schenectady City Hall by the mayors of the two largest cities in his 111th Assembly district. "As a civil engineer, I'm serving in the state Assembly. Every year, I've been talking about some of these things that are under the ground, some of these systems, that'cha don't see every day. You hear about potholes, you hear about streetlighting, you hear about cracks in the sidewalk, those are things that we all see, but under those roads are critical services. And when they're gone, you know it, because when sewers aren't working or water lines are broken and that service is no longer there, residents quickly know it, and it can shut down parts of the city or the town or whatever the case may be."
Under the measure, the fund would be replenished annually at the same time state budget allocations are made for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, which invests $2 billion in infrastructure improvements across the state over a five-year period. "The state has included funding for water and sewer infrastructure in this year's budget through the New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act. We are here to call for more immediate funding to be made available for these unexpected emergencies that can happen even while you're making repairs to a line."
Last year saw notable major infrastructure failures in Albany, Amsterdam and Troy. Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy says the measure will relieve pressure on municipalities. "We need the partnership to be able to deal with unforeseen events and be able to invest for the future."
Santabarbara's bill would reserve 10 percent of that clean water funding each year and make it more immediately available for emergency repairs. Jay Simson is President of the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York. "In this area alone, you look at the number of boil water alerts that we have where people need to boil their water before they drink it. This is the United States of America, not a third world country where we're getting water out of a stream and having to boil it, but now we have to do that periodically because we're not investing in these things."
Some of Amsterdam's pipes are more than 120 years old. Last year the city had to make emergency repairs to its sewer system. Mayor Michael Villa says communities like his often cannot afford the fixes. "We can't look under the ground on every street in every location and know that there's going to be an issue. Fortunately for the city of Amsterdam, we have done and recognized the fact that we had aging infrastructure, that we needed to make pump station repairs, and we identified the Forest Avenue area as an area that was susceptible to failure. And we did go out and bond for $5 million through EFC, of which $1.2 of that was a grant. There's no ribbon cutting when you borrow $5 million and you fix items under the pavement. Expending that amount of money to a taxpayer base that's already stressed is really a financial burden. And then to incur problems that you can't plan for, it just is really virtually impossible for a community such as ours."
Santabarbara’s bill is similar to legislation proposed by Democratic Colonie Assemblyman Phil Steck and Republican Glenville-based Senator Jim Tedisco. Their measure targets aging infrastructure that hasn't yet failed, while Santabarbara's would fund repair or replacement as problems arise.