Residents prove river’s pollution

Jonathan Chin, The Town Journal

Upper Saddle River

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.

Schubert recently had a sample of water that came out of a manhole on South Monsey Road in Airmont, N.Y. taken to the Northwest Bergen Health Commission, which sent it to a testing lab in Fairfield.

"I got the report back and it’s off the chart," said Schubert, referring to the discovery of more than 200,000 coliform units per 100 milliliters of water, which he said is "100 times higher than humans should come in contact with."

"They’re turning the Saddle River into an open sewer, there’s no other way to put it," Schubert said of the sewer authority of Rockland County Sewer District No. 1.

Quoting Upper Saddle River Health Officer Angela Musella, Schubert said, "I certainly wouldn’t drink it, I certainly wouldn’t bathe in it, I certainly wouldn’t water my plants with it, it’s not potable water."

He said pipes in the area used to overflow once every year, but overflows are occurring more frequently–several times since October–because of overdevelopment.

"There’s so much development, so many more toilets have been connected to that sewer line that the nominal flow now is so high that any excess, meaning any kind of waterfall, any kind of rainfall or snowmelt will trigger an action and it’ll start to overflow," said Schubert.

On Jan. 18, the manhole on South Monsey Road overflowed raw sewage for four hours, according to Hillside Avenue resident Karen Miller.

Residents are worried that a yeshiva and dormitory housing that are being proposed off of Hillside Avenue in Airmont will only exacerbate the problem.

Schubert said Airmont has imposed a six-month moratorium on new large-scale buildings. But that does not pertain to projects that are currently before the village’s planning board, such as the yeshiva.

He and other citizens raised concerns about the water at a recent meeting of Rockland County Sewer District No. 1. However, they left the meeting feeling unsatisfied.

"It seemed to be a very staged meeting," said Miller. "The commission knew that residents would be there to confront them on the spills."

Schubert said, "It was just totally lame, (they) gave you lip service, they did nothing more. We’ve been told by the Airmont people to go see the sewer district and they said, ‘Go. . . see. . .Airmont.’ Just the runaround."

He said Christopher St. Lawrence, Ramapo’s town supervisor, claimed that sewage had not come into the waterway and that only 1,000 gallons of sewage has spilled in Ramapo over the last 10 years.

But Schubert said records were obtained showing that over 800,000 gallons of sewage had been spilled over the last five years. "He contradicted the very information we got from his own sewer authority," said Schubert.

He said St. Lawrence offered four resolutions, one of which involved moving a force main on South Monsey Road farther downstream to accommodate flow. The project might be designed this year, but it might not be completed for another five years.

"The bottom line is that if these proposed resolutions are implemented, we are still years away from any relief from these chronic overflows," said Miller. "These resolutions have to go through a design process, a bidding-out process, find funding and finally they must be constructed."

"In the meanwhile, these ever-increasing overflows continue threatening our health," she added.

Because the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have been no help, Upper Saddle River will need to make its case to the EPA, said Schubert.

"As an elected official in this town, I can’t let this go unchallenged, that they continue to have this overflow that now I’ve proven is detrimental to the health of anybody who touches this water, going directly into our river where kids fish, where kids play, that help feeds our aquifer," he said.