An Accounting, Finally

Preserve Ramapo has been complaining about the condition of the sewers in Rockland County Sewer District #1 for years. A few months ago, I called the Health Department to ask why the District had never been fined for spills that are frequent, large, and dangerous. I was told, "Well, thatís about to end very soon." A consent order was being drawn up by the State Department of Environmental Conservation and fines would be attached.

On May 10, Marc Horan, Regional Director for the DEC in White Plains signed an order "In the Matter of the Violation of Article 17-0803 of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law by Rockland County Sewer District #1."

In brief, the order sets out the following terms:

A $20,000 fine with $10,000 to be paid with the order signed by RCSD#1. The remaining $10,000 is suspended if the District follows the terms of the order.

By Dec. 29, 2006, RCSD#1 shall submit to the DEC, for approval, a Dry Weather SSO (sewer system overflows) abatement program. [Reduce the number of spills that occurred when rain or snow melt is not the cause.]

By July 2, 2007 (for all wet weather events), RCSD#1 shall

a) Submit an evaluation of flow data for the collection system including current collection system capacities, interceptors, and pumping stations.

b) Submit a description of the SSO abatement program.

c) Submit proposed design information for the SSO abatement program (i.e. pump station upgrade, new upgraded and/or infiltration and inflow reduction technologies) including the basis of design.

d) Submit a final design and implementation schedule with specific tasks, durations and milestone dates.

The order was agreed to and signed by Julius Graifman (Chairman of the RCSD#1 Board of Sewer Commissioners) on May 9th.

Two Key Elements

What may be the two critical elements of this order appear in 3 a) and d).

The first requires data that the District may not be able to collect with its present, partially broken down system of metering and monitoring. Replacing flow meters that (pardon the expression) crapped out on Dec. 31, 1999, will be expensive. Also, the amount of influx to the system from illegal hookups and unmapped storm water lines remains a current mystery. If, however, the district can come up with a realistic estimate on the capacity of the system, then we may finally have the information necessary to compare the development growth and what the system can, or cannot, handle. Our guess is that the system is over capacity today and that continued uncontrolled growth threatens the entire community.

The second requirement (3d) might involve astronomical costs and a few political careers. For instance, you might recall that the Supervisorís expression of confidence in the system has been unflagging:

"Thereís absolutely nothing wrong with the County sanitary sewer system." (Christopher St. Lawrence Jan. 26, 2006 before the Rockland County Sewer Commission) 

This is whatís known in the legal community as the "ostrich defense." On the same evening that he made this claim, we offered St. Lawrence FOILed copies of the 100 spills that have poured tens of thousand of gallons of unprocessed sewage into streets, yards, a lake used by a day camp, a car dealership in Spring Valley, a tennis club in New Jersey, alongside a major reservoiróhe didnít want to see them. He also seemed indifferent to a lab test of a recent spill that exceeded the DEPís safe allowable limits for incidental human contact by 100 times.

We now have to wait and see what the progress is in the implementation of this order. These items have not been part of the RCSD #1 budget, so it will be interesting to see how they manage the requirements. To be sure, though, one year from now, it will be time to make another call to the DEC to see what data was returned and what the fixes will involve.

[For the original text of the document click here for the PDF. Note: the appendix of spills attached begin in the year 2003 and do not include the latest spills this year. For a complete updated list of the spills for the last five years click here.]

Michael Castelluccio