What St. Lawrenceís Dishonesty Is Going to Cost Us:
The Report Is In

When the average person bends the truth, being caught might result in embarrassment or a smack in the head, but when politicians massage reality for the sake of their own careers, the consequences are likely to be more severe. Thatís the case with Supervisor St. Lawrence and his iron-clad guarantee that our sewer system "truly is an engineering marvel of the civilized world," capable of handling all the new high-density development his Master Plan has in store for us. Unfortunately, the claim is more like disintegrating rusted pipe than iron-clad because the results of a long-term engineering study have just been released, and the first payment from the taxpayers will be $50 million.

This is not something new for the Supervisor. Over the last two years, he has consistently downplayed the illegal spills of sewage (about 160 since 2000) that have dumped about 7 million gallons of untreated wastewater and solid debris into our streets, yards, and waterways. On January 18, 2006, St. Lawrence, who is a commissioner and something of a spokesperson for the Rockland Sewer Commission, got up at a Sewer Commission meeting and announced, "There is absolutely nothing wrong with the county sanitary sewer system." When Preserve Ramapo offered to hand him a stack of official spill reports documenting the recent failures, he refused to take them. As a Commissioner, he knew the contents of the reports.

Just a few weeks ago in a Community View that he wrote for the Journal News, St. Lawrence again claimed that the Sewer District was "collecting, transporting and processing that effluent [sewage] in a clean, efficient and environmentally responsible system." When he was writing this fiction, the total number of illegal sewer spills at that point in the year was 35 with a total of 3.4 million gallons in spills. Thatís an average of 22,585 gallons of sewage into village streets daily. Thatís what he was describing as an "environmentally responsible system."

There are three obvious consequences for this dishonesty. First, as a sewer commissioner, his continuing denial allowed the system to further deteriorate. And that was bound to create serious repair costs down the line at some point when the public or the state decided not to tolerate the situation any longer. But, worst of all, the Supervisor was risking the health and safety of residents living in the areas where the system frequently has raw sewage spills. A vice president of the Rockland Board of Health said in June of last year, "The volume of sewage spilled in Rockland Countyís Sewer District No 1 poses a great public health risk and needs to be addressed quickly." Almost one year after this warning was issued, Supervisor St. Lawrence was still praising the system as "an engineering marvel" that is "efficient and environmentally responsible." Itís one thing to have to pick up the bill for this politicianís purposeful neglect but quite another to tolerate the risk of an outbreak of a disease like hepatitis in our neighborhoods.

What It Will Cost the Taxpayers

If you want a clearer idea of the tab we have just been presented with, check the official bill at the bottom of this article. It's from the Stearns and Wheler engineering report commissioned by the Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The engineering firm, by the way, is the same group that did the assessment of the Orangetown sewer system which is now into cost overruns that have doubled the estimated costs from $22m to $47m. If we have anything like that with delays and increased cost of materials, the initial $50m itís going to cost us to fix our system could jump to $100m+.

The engineering report is only part of our bill for this negligence. The DEC has fined our District $20,000 for the spills, and $300,000 has already been spent on a fix to prevent spills on South Monsey Road. That 300 grand was washed away in the first heavy rainstorm after the work was completed. The fix failed.

Then thereís the Federal Clean Waters Act lawsuit brought against Sewer District #1 by Upper Saddle River for repeated spills directly into federally protected waterways. St. Lawrence has publicly announced that he thinks he and the commission will win this lawsuit. I have seen the photographic evidence of these spills and Iím not so sure you can fashion a speech that will cause the physical evidence--the wastewater, the solid waste, tissue and tamponsóto just float away in the glory of your rhetoric. Being deposed under oath in a Federal Court is not going to be the same gig as doing your weekly local cable show where no one holds you to account for anything.

Make no mistake, this is going to be an expensive ride for the taxpayers of Ramapo and others living within Rockland County Sewer District #1. And it was unnecessary had the political officials and appointees done their jobs. I donít think you can blame those who actually work at the Districtís offices or those out in the field. The Sewer Commission is made up of politicians whose focus on their political careers perhaps has eclipsed their judgment and values.

Why Risk the Consequences?

If you think about the career-ending consequences that could follow just one major health disaster caused by a sewage spill, you might wonder why a politician would risk taking this kind of chance. Maybe itís just the kind of self-delusion thatís part of "it hasnít happened yet, so why worry." But in the case of Christopher St. Lawrence, I think there is something much larger going on.

It seems all of the political fires that St. Lawrence and his Board have to put out all come flying out of the same vortexóhigh-density development that is out of control. The abominable conditions on the local roads, the lack of water that has forced United Water to go "hat-in-hand" looking to buy new resources wherever it can, and, of course, the sewer spills all over Ramapo. This administration has dedicated itself to building out Ramapo into an urban enclave that is fast becoming a burb city. And why would they do this? Iíll let you make up your own list of possible reasonsóIím sure several will immediately come to mind. Iíll just continue totaling the bill that eventually is going to crush most of us with rising taxes and failing infrastructure. And Iíll vote this November.

Michael Castelluccio
July 20, 2007

Improvement
Number
Description Phase Estimated

Cost

Estimated Fiscal, Legal,  and Engineering Cost Total Cost
1 Wet weather inflow

Identification

A

B

C

$600,000

$750,000

$800,000

$400,000

$450,000

$500,000

$1,000,000

$1,200,000

$1,300,000

2 Identified Inflow

Source Removal

Study

A

B

C

$200,000

$1,300,000

$1,400,000

$1,800,000

$70,000

N/A

N/A

N/A

$270,000

$1,300,000

$1,400,000

$1,800,000

3 Remove Sediment in Lower Main Interceptor N/A $1,900,000 $100,000 $2,000,000
4 Peak wet weather conveyance at upper and lower Hackensack Interceptor Junction N/A $14,000,000 $3,500,000 $17,500,000
5 Peak wet weather flow conveyance in Spring Valley N/A $14,500,000 $3,500,000 $18,000,000
6 Locking watertight cover installation at Monsey and Hillcrest interceptors N/A $160,000 $40,000 $200,000
7 Redirect Tallman pumping station discharge N/A $400,000 N/A $400,000
8 Evaluation of Saddle River Pumping Station Operations N/A N/A $200,000 $200,000
9 Identification of inflow sources tributary to the North Pumping Station N/A $900,000 $200,000 $1,100,000
10 Town of Clarkstown Congers Road Pumping Station replacement N/A N/A N/A $2,200,000
11 Ongoing Monitoring N/A N/A N/A N/A
Total Cost     $38,700,000 $8,900,000 $50,000,000

Report prepared by Stearns & Wheler, LLC  Environmental Engineers and Scientists
One Remington Park Drive, Cazenovia NY.   Publication date July 2007.