Town to sue Airmont over dirty water

Town Journal Upper Saddle River

First appeared Oct. 26, 2006
By Jonathan Chin

The borough will sue the nearby village of Airmont and the sewer authority for polluting the Saddle River.

Last March, Richard Golden, an attorney hired by the borough, sent a letter of intent to sue to Airmont and Rockland County Sewer District No. 1.

Golden stated that they were responsible for illegal and unpermitted discharges into the Saddle River and that if they didnít agree to a plan to remediate the problem within 60 days, he would be authorized to sue.

After a spill sent at least 2.5 million gallons of raw sewage into Lake Oratam and the Saddle River this past August, the borough has decided that enough is enough.

In an Oct. 6 letter to the two parties, Goldenís law firm, Burke, Miele & Golden, LLP, of Goshen, N.Y., stated that it intends to file a citizen suit under the Clean Water Act following a 60-day notice period.

"Things arenít getting better, theyíre getting a thousand times worse," said Council Member Dennis Schubert, explaining the need for litigation. "Clearly, somethingís wrong."

"Itís where we live, itís our environment," said Schubert. "You donít want toilet paper floating down the river."

According to Schubert, Rockland County Sewer District No. 1 responded poorly to the sewer spill that occurred last August.

"They got a report of an odor, they went, they checked their pump station, there was nothing wrong with the pump station, so they walked away," said Schubert.

"If they had just opened their eyes the first time, they would have seen it," added Schubert, "Itís just frustrating, they have no regard for us downstream from them, no regard."

Schubert said the sewer system in Rockland County is overtaxedóit was installed in the late 1960s and designed to serve 180,000 people. But there are currently 300,000 people living in the area.

He said those who manage the sewer system have proved themselves incapable of doing so and would like to see them step down.

Schubert also advocated a complete and thorough study of the entire sewer system, so that current inadequacies could be identified. He wanted the sewer system rebuilt, so that it could handle overflows.

In addition, he wanted either Airmont or the state to implement a moratorium on building and construction, so that the sewer system doesnít continue to overflow into the Saddle River.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has already ordered Rockland County Sewer District No. 1 to pay a $20,000 fine for violating state environmental conservation law.

Additional fines are possible. The Oct. 6 letter stated that those who violate the Clean Water Act are subject to a civil penalty of up to $31,500 for each violation.

Schubert said the borough has already set aside $75,000 for legal expenses in 2006, a sum that includes the cost of pending litigation.

"Thatís only money we can expend in í06," he said. "Thereís lots more to come in í07 and í08 and however long it takes just to keep the river clean."