Sewer Problems Spill Over onto the Streets
Brought online in the ‘60s when there were 59,000 residents, the
that our sewer system could serve a population of as many as 153,000. Today, there are
about 300,000 residents in Rockland, and building development is accelerating without the
zoning controls that used to slow the growth. In Ramapo, many of these regulations have been
stripped away in the revised Master Plan of Supervisor St. Lawrence and his board. One result:
167 sewer spills over the last 6 years overflowing 4.2 million gallons of untreated sewage onto
our streets and into our waterways. The Village of Airmont has attempted to get information on
their own situation with letters to the Sewer Commission, FOIL requests on the local spills,
and monitoring by residents. Click here to read the letters and a summary of the 167 documented
spills in Rockland County Sewer District 1.
What you're looking at is a manhole cover being lifted up by a backflow of rainwater and sewage powerful enough to lift the 100-pound cast iron lid. It’s spilling out onto the street on South Monsey Road in Airmont, eventually flowing into the east branch of the Saddle River. A secondary overflow site is on Hillside Avenue within yards of the Saddle River. Both represent serious threats to the water supply of Bergen County and the underlying aquifer. And this is not the first time this has happened, in fact it's been happening with increasing regularity. Dave Snider, a local resident has been documenting these eruptions after storms since 1996. The occurrence in this photo happened last September. To get some idea of how the Town deals with this kind of health hazard, click on the photo for the rest of the story and to see how your local government is looking out for you and your family’s welfare.
If you have bought Supervisor St.
Lawrence's evasions and lies over
the last two years, the truth is now
available in an engineering report
that itemizes $50 million dollars in
taxpayer-funded repairs for the
system about which Supervisor (and Sewer Commissioner) St. Lawrence has sworn
repeatedly that "there is absolutely nothing wrong with." The report was ordered
by the DEC, and we have a copy of the bill and commentary here. (A more tech-
nical analysis of the full report will be presented here on the site, soon.
the second week of the outbreak, the E.coli infection from spinach
has reached 21 states with one reported death and scores hospitalized.
The food growers had been warned, and, until now, they had been lucky
to avoid this kind of national outbreak that has spread from California to
Maine. But authorities here in Ramapo have also been warned. Almost one
million gallons of raw sewage has spilled into the streets and waterways
of Ramapo over the last five years, and nothing has been done about
it. (Complete story)
"For four hours yesterday, raw
bubbled up into the downstairs playroom and bathroom
of Stacey and Raphael Ziegler, filling the toilet and tub
with stinking liquid and soaking the carpet that went
down after Hurricane Floyd flooded their Kentor Lane home in 1999." For a list
of other sewer "home invasions" and the cost to do repairs click here. [Story
available only in Journal News archives]
Pomona sewer spill pollutes waterways (April 30)
Ironically, Sunday's Journal had a claim from Julius
Graifman, chairman of Rockland
Sewer Commissioners that "no one had gotten sick from sewage overflows." Not
the experience of some Pomona residents as recalled when a new 12-hour spill
dumped raw sewage into the south branch of the Minisceongo Creek. Readers of
these pages might recall another brazen prediction concerning Pomona sewer
lines--the claim made by the rabbinical college lawyer who said sewers and water
would not be a problem. The developer could take care of that. (See Channel
4News coverage--scroll down home page).
[Story available only in Journal News archives]
The reaction by one attendee at the sewer symposium.
Peter Strasser recounts
the latest spill near his property and has a few suggestions about a greater
need for vigilance on the part of the Town and County Sewer Districts. Read
the Community View here.
The sewer "symposium" held yesterday at RCC might have
small progress. Supervisor St. Lawrence did finally move off his absolute denial
of any problem in the system, but he does still remain blind to the relationship
between overdevelopment and failing sewer lines. Somehow the 3.5 million
gallons of raw sewage that have emptied into our streets and waterways have
escaped his notice. At least, that's his public position on the matter. A position,
coincidentally, shared by developers. You can read a commentary by an engineer
who does not agree on all points with yesterday's panel.
"Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence and
Dianne Philipps, executive director of
Sewer District #1, still refuse to admit that they have a systemic problem - too
many people and a sewer system designed for single-family homes." Read Bob
Rhodes' entire Community View in The Journal News here.
Journal notes Preserve Ramapo on Earth Day (April 22, 2007)
As part of their Earth Day coverage, The Journal News
watchdog groups in the County. The front page story featured a photo of
the site of a massive sewage spill that directed 2.4 million gallons of raw
sewage into the Cherry Brook, which flows directly into 2 lakes used for
recreation and finally emptying in to the Saddle River. Earth Day story
is available only in Journal News archives--the spill story, however, can
be read here.
James Walsh writes in today's Journal News
that Rockland County Sewer District
No 1 has decided to move on to the next attempt to fix the failing sewer line that
runs through Airmont along S. Monsey Road. The siphon, Plan A, cost $300,000 and
didn't pass the test of the first heavy rains a few weeks ago. The cost of Plan B is
still unknown. A serious sidelight missing from the Journal story was the attempt to
deny the spill by Christopher St. Lawrence as he argued on the street with the
resident who reported the spill, and Dianne Philipps' questions about how do we
know the photos taken were authentic. Read that story, The Siphon, the Super-
visor and the Storm here. [Journal coverage is available only in Journal News archives]
The money had been
spent—a lot of it, hundreds of thousands. The fix was in
place—a new reverse siphon along the railroad tracks that would end the sewer
spills along South Monsey Road in Airmont. Then it began to rain. (More)
"A project to upgrade and
install sewers in Ramapo and Clarkstown, now more
than a half-decade old, is estimated to cost $7.3 million more and will increase
taxes for residents." And this might be just the beginning. The engineering report
from Stearns and Wheler, ordered by the DEC, is due in July. Story here.
[Story available only in Journal News archives]
You can read the story as seen from the Jersey
side of the border
in the Record's coverage.
Our coverage, posted Wednesday, is available here, and it does include
the full text of the filing document.
After filing papers back in
October stating their intent to sue, Upper
Saddle River has filed the lawsuit against Rockland County Sewer District #1
and Airmont for the sewage spills into the Saddle River over the past few
years. The suit is based on the Federal Clean Water Act, and it will be heard
in the US District Court for Southern New York. This action should drastically
change the quality of information we have been getting from the Sewer
District, the Sewer Commission, and Commission member St. Lawrence—at least
in that venue where they will be sworn in. Story here.
Kevin Coyne of The New York Times
the pollution that has been flowing into the
Saddle River from Rockland County Sewer District lines in Monsey and Airmont, and he explains the
fines imposed by the Dept. of Environmental Conservation and the Upper Saddle River lawsuit
based on the Federal Clean Waters Act. Story here. [The photo left is the Cherry Brook on
the Jersey side of Hillside Avenue, flowing toward the Saddle River. This brook was the
conduit for 2.5 million gallons of unprocessed sewage back on August 25.]
"The pipe is to run underground adjacent to
the athletic fields, beneath
the railroad tracks and across a municipal parking lot to Orange Avenue. At
Orange Avenue, the line will cross near the Route 202 (Wayne Avenue)
intersection to Hallet Place. It will cross Chestnut Street and proceed eastward
to Washington Avenue. At Washington Avenue, the pipeline will go north to
Route 202. It will follow Route 202 to Memorial Drive, and proceed to
Orchard Street. As planned, village streets will be open to traffic after each
work day. The northern end of Washington Avenue could be closed for 10 to
22 working days. Route 202 also may be narrowed to one lane at times by
the construction." [Story available only in Journal News archives]
"The "H" Lot, which runs along a railroad
siding and Hallet Place,
just east of Orange Avenue, will close if the county's sewer district
goes ahead with its plan to install a pipeline there as part of its western
Ramapo expansion project."[Story available only in Journal News archives]
Robert Rhodes' letter to the Journal about the
misguided plan to hook up
western Ramapo to an already overburdened system that periodically dumps
raw sewage into our streets and waterways. The photo below shows the latest offering from "Old Faithful." Letter here.
Near 4 S. Monsey Road,Airmont.
Nov. 8, about 5 pm. Shortly after
this photo was taken, the
manhole cover was lifted off.
Sewage was pooling on both
sides of the road.
Two other manholes
erupted in the area--on Cherry
Lane near West Road and College
Road and Route 59 at the light near the 7-11 Store.
Upper Saddle River has the law firm Burke,
Miele, and Golden send
a letter of intent to sue over the sewage spills that have entered
the Saddle River as it flows out of Airmont and into Bergen County. Rockland County Sewer District 1 is also named in the letter.
Read the Town Journal story here.
The Journal News story of the Sewer District's response to the 2.5-million gallon sewage spill on Cherry Lane back in August is presented alongside the remarks we made to the Sewer District on Thursday night. There are some mistakes made by the District's spokeswoman, but more important is the fact that all three agencies (RCSD#1, the Board of Health, and the DEC) all seem to refuse to go and talk to the neighbors who saw and reported this enormous, and dangerous spill. The District's report is based on observations of a four-hour event, while the real facts are that it lasted at least 60+ hours and could have been running into Cherry Brook for a week or two. Read both documents here, and then read how our engineer created the multi-million gallon estimate here.
As the clock starts on the overdue repairs and
the evaluation of the entire system,
the first entries on the tab are almost $1m. More than half of that
for monitoring equipment, much of which broke down in the year 2000. If
wondering why it was not replaced at that time, we believe,
you can find
the answer in the headlong rush to approve St. Lawrence's Master
Plan that is
currently urbanizing Ramapo. [Journal coverage available only in Journal
A local engineer offers his view on the repair planned for South Monsey Road.
"Frustrated and angered by the pollution of their river, residents are training to become environmental "watchdogs." The nearby village of Airmont and Rockland County Sewer District No. 1 have failed to address their overtaxed sewer system, which has sent raw sewage into the Saddle River on many occasions, according to residents." Read the entire story from the Town Journal here.
We finally have the official spill report
from the Rockland County Sewer District
No. 1, and there are some obvious differences between what is in
what the neighbors saw and reported. The total spill, according to RCSD
4,000 gallons. In fact, 4,000 gallons would have flowed
pipe in six minutes. The spill went on for more than 60 hours according
to witnesses.Read the report and the questions
The original story about the spill is here.
who use the two small lakes on Cherry Lane in Airmont for kayaking,
fishing, and just playing at the water's edge were not notified about the
sewage spill into the Cherry Brook, which feeds lake Oratam (Upper and Lower)
a few hundred yards downstream. The spill was, at a minimum 2.5 million
gallons and as much as 14 million gallons of unprocessed sewage. There was a
complete breakdown of the systems that should have made the proper
notifications causing a lengthy delay over an entire weekend. When the repairs
were finally made, not one of the agencies involved, Rockland County
Sewer District #1, Rockland Board of Health, Department of Environmental
Conservation, thought it necessary to warn the residents downstream. None
thought it necessary to test the lakes. The DEC, which recently announced a
zero tolerance stance concerning the Sewer District has not, to our knowledge,
taken any steps further than just accepting a report. It looks like we're on
our own folks, and it's getting more dangerous for us and our kids. Complete
story with photos here.
And the rest of Rockland County Sewer District #1 will welcome the additional flow into its already failing lines that have produced one hundred spills releasing a million gallons of raw sewage into the streets and waterways over the last five years. The JN story reports: "Sewer lines have been installed in central Hillburn, while installations are to begin next year in other areas, including Sloatsburg." Unfortunately, the new sewage processing plant for the area will not be operating until about 2009. Until then, it's hold your breath in the rest of Ramapo.
Supervisor St. Lawrence is quoted in the story, "This project was never
about growth." It's about protecting water purity. And the way to
protect the western well-field area is to encourage building over them?
Large-scale subdivisions have been passed by St. Lawrence and his board
in Sloatsburg, off Route 17, and off Sterling Mine Road. (We will post a
story later this summer detailing the burgeoning growth in this critical
area, which includes the well fields that produce about a third of
Rockland's total drinking water.) Environmentalists are not happy with
the growth, but there is a group that is probably even more pleased than
are the local residents--the developers. After all, how could you market
a half-million dollar adult retirement condo on the side of the mountain
if it had a septic tank?
[Story available only in Journal News archives]
"There are many citizens out there that don't realize that storm drains lead to streams that can lead to drinking water sources," said Thomas Micelli, director of environmental health for the Rockland Department of Health.
"They don't understand the difference between
storm drains and sanitary sewers," Micelli said. "But the more
pollutants that are in the raw water supply, the more the need to treat
[Story available only in Journal News archives]
"I live downstream from these overflows, in Upper Saddle River, N.J. When the South Monsey Road manhole cover overflows raw sewage, it ends up in the river. The Saddle River is one of only two natural trout-breeding streams in Bergen County, and is a place where our children enjoy playing." A New Jersey resident expresses her views concerning Ramapo sewer failures in a letter to the Journal. Read the letter here.
"The volume of sewage spilled in Rockland County’s Sewer District No. 1
poses a great public health risk and needs to be addressed quickly, a
commissioner on Rockland County’s Board of health said yesterday."
[Story available only in Journal News archives]
When Julius Graifman, Chairman of the Rockland County Sewer District No. 1's Board, was questioned by The Journal News about the sewage spills amounting to almost one million gallons in his district, he chose not to address the numbers or the obvious health threat. Instead, he accused those who had exposed the danger of "trying to use the sewer district as a tool to halt the [religious] project" on Hillside Avenue. It’s called a "red herring," and it's a favorite tool of politicians and propagandists. The way it works is you bring up a phony issue trumped up as being of great importance in order to distract from more important issues that might help the opposing party. We have yet to see a local official publicly accept and address the numbers that have been taken from their own official reports. (The State's DEC, however, has taken notice and become involved.) Read Hillside resident Peter Strasser’s response to Graifman in a Journal Community View.
Whoa, who gets the job of bailing out your cellar when the Ramapo sewer lines reverse themselves and your house becomes an unofficial pumping station? The Town of Ramapo, that’s who. For details on the neighborhoods and costs of the cleanups click here.
Recently, the Journal News editorial page has swung over hard in the direction toward which we have been pointing--in some cases, for years. In this call for action on the failing sewer system in Ramapo, the editor criticizes the delay ("The agreement requires the district to submit detailed plans, including designs and a timetable for completing the job, but not until July 2007. That's too liberal a time frame.") and calls for serious measures ("Immediate action can be taken, such as natural gas-fired generators, new pumps and a mailing to all property owners that illegal hookups must end, including sump pumps, or stiff fines and actual service shutoff will occur.") Also, you might want to look at another recent editorial "Managing the Density" where they call for a line drawn in the sand concerning development. [Editorials available only in Journal News archives]
"Enough is apparently enough, even for the frequently extremely patient state.
The DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) wanted to start officially monitoring the district's efforts to ensure that the problems were being addressed, spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach said.
'Because the violations have continued, we realized we needed to have a way of tracking to make sure it gets done,' Rosenbach said." [Story available only in Journal News archives] (Also see our coverage here with complete text of the Consent Order from the DEC and details of all the spills of the last 5 years.)
"Rockland County Sewer District No. 1's Board of Commissioners signed a $43.7 million contract yesterday for the [sewer processing] plant, which is to be completed in December 2008. With the scheduled opening of the treatment plant more than two and a half years away, Hillburn is hoping for an interim connection to the county's existing sewage system." [Story available only in Journal News archives] The $43.7m is the cost for the plant--additional costs will be part of the change-over from septic to sewer lines. Meanwhile, the overburdened Sewer District #1 will be handling the additional flow (see data on the almost 1 million gallons of raw sewage that has been spilled in Ramapo and elsewhere in RCSD#1) We are still awaiting word on the Consent Order from the DEC, which will outline the fixes that must be made to Sewer District One's lines and systems.
Sewer spills that total virtually one million gallons over the last five years have prompted the State Department of Environmental Conservation to issue a $20,000 civil penalty and to order engineering reports and abatement programs (fixes) for both dry weather and wet weather spills. Story and complete text of the order here.
"Borough officials are warning their counterparts in neighboring Airmont, N.Y., to repair sewer lines or face a lawsuit." Letters were sent to Airmont and the Rockland County Sewer District #1 that USR is preparing litigation if the problem of sewage dumped into their waterways is not fixed. Complete story here.
Meanwhile in Airmont, when Mayor Layne was questioned by The Record, he took a page out of Christopher St. Lawrence's spin book on the situation. The Mayor claimed, "Throughout my discussions with the Rockland County Sewer District over a decade, I have never been told or gotten the sense that there were high-volume spills of sewage along these sewer lines and at these pump stations." We would suggest that about 900,000 gallons of sewage, with the most recent spill tested at >200,000 cfu/100mL (that's 100 times the safe limit for human contact) is the kind of situation that might have caught the attention of a civic-minded public official.
New Jersey Residents have long suspected that an overtaxed sewer system in Rockland County was contaminating the Saddle River. Now, says Council Member Dennis Schubert, they have the "smoking gun" that proves it. Read The Town Journal article.
Sunday, April 15--A major spill of
raw sewage on the site of the Saddle
River Swim and Tennis Club that ran
directly into the Saddle River.
Series of photos from Sunday after-
noon through to Monday here.
Also: Photos of spill on South Monsey Road at the site of the recent
$300,000 syphon repair. The fix has failed--photos here.
County Legislator Ellen Jaffe, D-Suffern, said that with the increase of more than 30%, legislators would demand a strict accounting. "That's a very significant increase, and I have to ask some serious questions," she said.
"Jaffe said the request for more money would provide an opportunity to question the sewer district about problems in the existing system, and the potential costs to fix them." [Story available only in Journal News archives]
"If the [the sewer district's] proposals are part of an overall plan to expand the capacity and useful life of the trunk sewer from South Monsey to the Orangeburg treatment plant to serve the ever-burgeoning population of Airmont/Ramapo and Rockland for another 50-75 years, it's responsible planning. If, however, the above fixes are just a temporary effort in order to procrastinate spending the millions of dollars that it will take to completely renovate the trunk sewer between South Monsey Road and Orangeburg, it would be false economy. The longer the 40-plus-year-old trunk sewer is left to deteriorate due to overcapacity from population growth or storm water infiltration, the potential for more dire emergencies exists." Read David Snider's complete letter to the Journal here.
The Journal News editorial page has gotten in line behind the Rockland Sewer Commission as both latecomers follow the lead that was taken by Preserve Ramapo, Airmont residents, and the DEC calling for a complete evaluation of the RCSD#1's sewer system with the intention of tackling repairs (and maybe even new systems) to solve long-standing problems that the political community has been blind to. [Editorial available only in Journal News archives]
Known to Rockland County Sewer District #1 as manhole cover #10019, the cover on South Monsey Road near Christmas Hill Rd. once again sprayed raw sewage out onto the roadway Friday morning, Dec. 16. And once again, the crew from RCSD was called out to spread lime over the contagion. In the photo above you can see the waste water collecting in the railway bed adjacent to the street.
There are two disturbing facts about the Dec.16 spill. First, it was caused by a light to moderate rainfall and partial snow melt. Second, the interval between events at this location is shortening. The last spills at this site were on Oct 8,12, and 14 of this year--two months ago. It's only a matter of time before one of these events creates a major health disaster or triggers an already anticipated lawsuit from the Upper Saddle River residents downstream of these and other spills. (Note: this was not the only sewage spill in the Town on Friday.)
Read the details, with photos, here.
Jan. 18--Another sewage spill on South Monsey Road in Airmont. For about four hours, raw sewage overflowed into yards, down the street, and into waterways leading to the Saddle River. The frequency of these toxic spills is increasing--now occurring with only one month between events. See the sewer system page for details. (Samples from this spill were tested by APL Laboratories on Jan. 19. The sample showed a total fecal coliform number of >200,000 cfu/100mL. The US EPA safe limit for human contact with this pathogen is 2,000 cfu/100mL. In other words, the spill on South Monsey Road exceeded the safety threshold by 100 times what is acceptable.)
January 26, New City–-Thursday’s meeting of the Rockland Sewer Commission drew a crowd that included angry residents, village trustees, a councilman from Upper Saddle River, the Journal News and Channel 12 Cable News. Preserve Ramapo was there to question the members about sewage spills throughout Rockland and especially those in Ramapo. When we arrived, Jim Walsh of the Journal News asked if we thought they knew we were coming. It wasn’t long before the question answered itself. (More)
Meeting with Sewer District
Alarming Lack of Information
Erupting manholes in Airmont and elsewhere in Ramapo have been the smoking gun, and now there's a list of what the Sewer District doesn't know as development continues at a rapid rate. They don't know what the real capacity of the sewer lines are, and they don't know what the current flow is. There are no flow meters to collect the necessary data. There's also a disturbing narrative about an engineer's objection to St. Lawrence's Master Plan and then the sudden disappearance of the objections. And there's also the problem of illegal hookups to the system--they aren't being investigated, and there's no plan to shut them down. Read the full report and the background here.
Ignoring the County Sewer problem (Dec 9)
"There is no effective political leadership in Rockland. Anyone who doubts this assertion should take a look at County Sewer District No. 1, which is responsible for most of the sewers in Rockland." Read Bob Rhodes' Community View piece in The Journal News.
When Dianne Philipps, Executive Director of the Rockland County Sewer District #1, did not show at the Airmont Village Board Meeting last Monday (9/12), she left many critical questions unanswered and many residents frustrated. Questions about the raw sewage spills in their neighborhoods would have to wait. One of those attending the meeting was Ron Glisci. Mr. Glisci is an environmental engineer with experience designing and building sewer systems on Long Island. He was not there as a hired consultant--he is a resident of Airmont, and the health and land-use issues directly impact his family as they do most of the others who came to the meeting. After the meeting, Mr. Glisci wrote a letter outlining the threat to public health caused by a system that appears to be no longer able to manage the capacities directed through it. You can read Mr. Glisci's letter here.
[You can also read 15 of the questions attendees wanted to ask the Director here. They have been sent to the Director, and as we receive answers we will post them beneath each question.]
Airmont Holidome, Sept. 12, 2005
In attendance: Mayor John Layne (Airmont), Airmont Board of Trustees Joe Meyers, Dennis Kay, Anthony Valenti, Deputy Mayor Al Spampinato, Mayor Bob Frankl (Wesley Hills), Councilman Dennis Schubert (Upper Saddle River); Candidates Joe Brennan (Supervisor, Preserve Ramapo), Herman Friedman (Town Board, Preserve Ramapo), Richard Stolbach (County Executive, Independent); Preserve Ramapo and the Hillside Avenue Preservation Association; press and residents.
Missing: Dianne Philipps, Executive Director of Rockland County Sewer District #1.
Director Philipps had agreed months ago to come to the Airmont Board meeting to answer questions about sewer capacity and problems. But at the last minute, too late to inform those attending, she sent word she would not appear. The Journal News subhead today reads "District Chief refuses to meet, says public airing unproductive." The two excuses she gave the press were transparent and factually incorrect. Last night, the speculation for her absence took three directions: 1) She was told not to go; 2) She didn’t have answers for the questions that were waiting; 3) She had the answers, but they were politically dangerous.
Solution: Preserve Ramapo has a solution. We will post the questions that were going to be asked, here on our website. We will email them to Director Philipps, and as she answers them, we will post them on the Question Page. So if you have questions you were not able to ask, please forward them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include in the subject space the phrase "Questions about sewers in Ramapo." We will remove the "Refuses to Answer" in the answer space for each question as we get the Director’s explanation. Watch for this page toward the end of this week.
Journal article " Questions on sewage spills left unanswered" [Story available only in Journal News archives]
Airmont letter to Sewer Commissioner and reply
The letter sent to Dianne Philipps by the Airmont Mayor and Board can be read here, and her reply with explanations can be seen here.
Drowning in drainage (July 26) Editorial
"The horse is long out of the barn, and
flood control will take much money to fix what should not have been broken.
Still, plans must be updated, acted upon quickly and, most of all, future woes
must be prevented by better drainage planning."
[Editorial available only in Journal News archives]
An environmental engineer with extensive experience in sewer system design and construction appeared before the Airmont Planning Board to present his views on the sewer overflows in Airmont and elsewhere in Ramapo. These spills have been occurring with increased frequency and are not inconsequential--they often involve tens of thousands of gallons, and many make their eventual way into the branches of the Saddle River. Read his report on the problem, additional information on the Sewer District's reports of the spills, and specific information about the health risks.
Ramapo sewer woes (May 15) Community View
"After heavy rains, the Village of Airmont is exposed to sewer overflows coming downhill from Monsey. The main overflow is where the force mains enter the Ramapo trunk. From there raw sewage flows into the east branch of the Saddle River."