Questions for Dianne Philipps--Executive Director of the Rockland County Sewer District #1 (Replies sent by Director Philipps will be posted directly beneath the question)
We believe that these questions about public health and land use need to be addressed in a public forum. We were disappointed when Director Philipps backed out on her promise to appear before the Airmont Town Board, Monday Sept. 12. She is the public official best able to answer these questions. We were further disturbed when it was reported to us that a phone call from Mayor Layne the day of the meeting informed her that the press would be attending, and that was the reason for Ms. Philipps’ absence.
1. In your reply to the Airmont Board’s questions, you addressed a total of 6 spills. Three of these had not been included in the documents returned to an Airmont resident when he made a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIL) for all spills in the area. Do you know how this could have happened?
2. You said the spills in Airmont were due to rainfall and ice-melt. We have been advised by an environmental engineer that "sanitary sewers are designed and sized to transport only wastewater, but a generous allowance is made to handle a certain amount of infiltration from rainwater." Are the lines through Airmont now incapable of handling wastewater and heavy rain events? Is this a problem throughout the system?
3. A scientist from the Rockland County Dept. of Soil and Water Department said the sewage spills were happening because of:
Loss of power to pumps
The system is undersized
Ground water infiltration
Illegal connections to the system
Do you agree with her assessment?
4. What is RCSD1 doing about investigating illegal hookups? How many illegal connections have been discovered in the last six months? What has been done to fix this situation? Finally, what type of documentation do you keep for reporting these illegal hookups?
5. You were asked to comment on the loss of data from "remote overflow sensors." In your answer you said, "The telemetry system transmits alarms from our 22 pump stations to our wastewater treatment plant in Orangeburg, which is manned 24/7." You also said "we lost some of our data gathering functions in 2000," but you didn’t explain what was lost and why. The phrase "remote overflow sensors" is from the last environmental impact study of the Master Plan. Could you explain what these sensors are and why they were lost in 2000? And, specifically, what data gathering function were you referencing in your letter? What has been lost, and how important is that data in planning future use?
6. The sewer system was designed in the late sixties when 59,000 people were living in the area. Assumed to be sufficient for triple that number of residents, we have far exceeded that figure with about 300,000 residents and we are growing more rapidly than ever. What plans are there for adding capacity to the system? What will be the cost? When must the work begin?
7. The following questions relate to a letter sent by your engineer, Joseph LaFiandra, to the Town of Ramapo Planning Board. It is LaFiandra’s assessment of the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) for the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. A copy can be downloaded here--page one and page two.
Section four in the letter advises: "The following changes in zoning, as proposed, will increase the building density in their respective areas and result in higher quantities of sewage flowing into District sewers that for which the system was designed." Eleven changes are listed from "the proposal for incentive zoning" to "the reduction in bulk requirements for places of worship and private schools."
Section five in the letter claims: "The DGEIS does not address the impact of the comprehensive plan on existing sewage collection and treatment facilities. The existing collection system may not have adequate capacity to handle the anticipated increase in flow due to the aforementioned changes in zoning. The practice of increasing density and consequently sewage flows from properties within the District may lead to an overload of the Sewer District’s facilities in the future."
Section seven of the letter explains that your engineer does not have the data needed for decisions because: "The DGEIS does not provide information for the District to quantitatively assess the number of additional units that the comprehensive plan will encumber on the sewer system for the following proposals:" and, again, the lists runs from "incentive zoning" to "the reduction in bulk requirements for places of worship and private schools."
What answers were you given by Supervisor St. Lawrence and the Board regarding: a) More sewage added to the system than that for which it was designed, and b) The insufficient information to make decisions that will negatively impact the system? Note that the mayors, when they presented this letter to the Supervisor, were not given any answers.
8. This objection by your engineer comes up again and again in later applications and is regularly ignored by the Planning Board. It is in the letter from LaFiandra concerning the Congregation Mesifta Ohel Torah application (Feb 8, 2002), and, again, in the letter about the Yeshiva Spring Valley application (Feb 18, 2005). The exact same warning appears in both letters: "The proposed variances will increase the building density on this site, resulting in higher quantities of sewage flowing from this project than for which the system was designed (2002)—The proposal for a school of religious instruction, which is a conditional use permitted only upon approval by the Planning Board, with an enrollment of eight hundred students will generate higher quantities of sewage flowing from this project than for which the system was designed (2005)."
Is your staff conducting any studies following the approval by the Town Board of these projects? Do you know how far beyond the designed capacity this kind of building can pressure the system before you reach critical limits? How many more "higher quantities than that for which the system was designed" developments can the forty-year-old system handle? Is a parallel sewer system the likely fix to this problem? How much would that cost?
9. In another letter from Mr. LaFiandra concerning an application in Spring Valley,
there’s a disturbing solution offered to the problem at hand. A builder was asking for a subdivision in an area plagued with recurring street spills (6 requiring cleanups in the last 5 years). LaFiandra noted in his letter, "Due to the problems with grease buildup and sanitary sewer overflows, the District requests that the applicant’s consulting engineer perform an analysis of the sewer system to determine if it has adequate capacity to handle the anticipated flow from this development."
Why is your engineer asking the builder to determine whether the project will be too much for the already stressed sewer line on Sherwood Ave.? Doesn’t he know that Maple Tree Realty Corp. would have a vested interest in finding no additional problem created by the subdivision? Is it an accepted practice of your department to outsource analyses you are required to conduct?
10. Because of drainage problems caused by over-development, a recent Journal News editorial suggested that "Developers of projects that require significant drainage or that which affects major streams in Rockland must post long-term bonds against future remediation." Do you agree? The paper also suggests that Boards should "approve no drainage for any site unless it is visited by every planning board member and town or village board official who votes on the project." Do you agree with that also?
11. Since November 2004, mention has periodically been made in the spill reports of the Jeffery Court area because of its spill record and the fact that it’s adjacent to the watercourse downstream of the Lake DeForest Dam. Has emergency construction been done, as suggested, to correct the problem in this sub-basin?
12. Several residents have asked about the two vents on South Monsey Road and sewer gases that escape from these. Why has the problem gotten worse recently at these two locations?
13. There have been 90 spills in the last five years with no fines paid by RCSD1 yet the other sewer district has paid fines for similar spills. This despite the fact that there have been spills directly into NY State Class A streams. Why is this so?
14. One resident wanted to show you the anecdotal evidence (notes and photos) related to spills that your department has no record of. He is not able to do this now, so would you be willing to meet with him in the future to explain why there are no reports in these cases, even when crews were dispatched?
15. What is your opinion about high-density housing projects and sewer capacities in Ramapo?
Posted Sept 20, 2005