Ramapo Sewer Woes
Appeared in Journal News May 15
Ramapo’s sewers are in trouble. 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. A secondary overflow site is on Hillside Avenue within yards of the Saddle River. These events are happening with increasing frequency.
For several years, Supervisor Chris St. Lawrence and his rubber stamp Town Board have denied that our sewers are in trouble while at the same time they were applying for a $2 million dollar federal grant for the Monsey drainage project. Ramapo’s political leaders don’t want to talk about it, but there is an intimate connection between this expensive project and our sewer emergency. What is going on here?
Our most serious drainage problem is in the village of Kaiser. It was built on what was essentially a drainage basin for Lake Suzanne. The location would not have been a problem if only a few steel high-rise apartment houses had been built and most of the land had been left untouched. Instead a dense community of three story-wooden apartment houses was created. The water that had previously drained into the area had to go somewhere. At least some of the builders who created this community must have understood both the problem and the solution. They installed sump pumps to send the water into the Ramapo sewer system. Of course, this is illegal and overloaded the system.
The political leaders (including Ramapo Supervisor St. Lawrence) who are paid to represent all of us on the sewer commission knew illegal hookups were a problem in Monsey but decided to ignore the problem. As one sewer engineer explained it to me "we didn’t have the resources" to look for illegal hookups.
Ramapo’s mayors were appalled by St. Lawrence’s new Comprehensive plan. They were concerned about the impact it would have on our sewers. As most of us already know, the new plan will allow thousands of new apartments in Monsey.
Our mayors did their job. They met with Supervisor St. Lawrence and gave him a copy of a letter sent by the sewer district’s chief engineer to the Ramapo Planning Board in May, 2003. The letter reviewed the impact that the proposed plan would have on our sewers. It found that there would not be any problems with the proposed increases in housing density except in Monsey where the sewers were already "at their theoretical maximum capacity." Supervisor St. Lawrence looked at the letter, acknowledged he was familiar with it, and continued his discussion with the mayors as if its contents were irrelevant.
Faced with St. Lawrence’s absolute indifference to their pleas, the mayors of seven villages were forced to start a lawsuit against the town of Ramapo. This suit is now slowly making its way through the courts.
Now we move from tragedy to travesty. In the last version of its environmental impact statement, Ramapo admitted that our sewer system’s remote overflow sensors stopped working at the end of 1999. Now, thanks to a "Y2K" bug, we do not have the data we need to do a proper analysis of our sewers.
It is most strange that while our county’s political leaders recently approved a new $96 million dollar sewer project in western Ramapo, they are not willing to provide the money we need to install a new remote overflow sensing system. Ignorance is bliss.
If the Supervisor has his way, we will have the thousands of new housing units that are planned for Ramapo, a vastly expanded sewer system, and major new drainage projects. These public works will cost us hundreds of millions of dollars, create endless difficulties, and help to destroy what was once a beautiful suburb.
The writer, Robert I. Rhodes, is Chairman of Preserve Ramapo.