EDITORIAL: Kinderhook sewer line makes sense

A SHOW OF HANDS, please: what part of Kinderhook village wants to host a sewage treatment plant for the community? Oh, c’mon. It’ll look just like a miniature early American homestead… that gurgles.

No takers? Count your blessings if you live in the village, because you don’t have to make this tough choice. You don’t need your own sewage treatment plant. Not yet, anyway.

The sections of the village that lie along main thoroughfares, loosely defined as the business district, have needed a central sewage system for years, but there hasn’t been a combination of money and political will to create one. But a majority of the current Village Board wants to connect the business district to the sewage treatment plant in next door Valatie. This means that the businesses and residents in “metro Kinderhook” can export their sewage without having to process it in the neighborhood. That’s a really good deal.

Kinderhook is a community steeped in history, and some residents may wonder why the village can’t just leave things the way they’ve always been. Probably no one would suggest returning to the good old days of outhouses, but some may question why the board would impose new fees and take on new debt, when individual systems have always worked in the past. The answers lie in a couple of other questions, starting with: What’s so good about old ways of sanitation?

As recently as 1903 more that 141,000 people died in this state from a typhoid epidemic caused by lethal bugs that thrived in polluted water. People here don’t die of that illness these days, not only because of drugs but mostly because we have much safer water supplies and we generally treat sewage where people live close to each other.

Many treatment systems are showing their age, and the cost to repair them is high. Four years ago the state Department of Environmental Conservation estimated that the statewide need for wastewater infrastructure repair, replacement and improvement exceeded $36 billion. The cost has risen since then. It’s little short of amazing, then, that the Kinderhook board has come up with grants and contributions to cover more than half the projected $700,000 cost of the sewer line connection to Valatie. If Kinderhook doesn’t grab that money and hold on tight, some other municipality will gladly take it.

One of the conditions of the federal grant to fund the new sewer connection does sound scary: the village has to guarantee that the installation and use of the sewer lines will lead to at least 37 new, local jobs. It’s true that some past grant recipients have ignored or winked at these types of job creation requirements. But in this economy and political climate, the village shouldn’t gamble that they’ll get away with flouting the rules.

Rather than consider job creation as a burden, the community should embrace this challenge as a worthwhile and productive goal. Besides, property owners will find it’s a lot cheaper for the village to recruit employers who will make new hires than to pay the debt for the whole sewer system… or to go without a system much longer.

And while we’re on the topic of costs, here’s an observation based on having covered sewer projects for the last few decades: These projects always cost more than expected and sewer bills will be higher than anyone imagines. When the bills begin to arrive, sewer district rate payers howl at their local officials, accusing them of everything from lying, mismanagement and betrayal to global conspiracy and animal cruelty. This anger is understandable but usually misplaced.

Building a system that handles sewage safely and reliably is not a simple task, and no one can say for sure what will happen once the digging starts. Spending enough to get it right the first time is costly. The only thing that costs more are the repair bills for a shoddy system that doesn’t work right.

The board members who voted against proceeding with the Kinderhook sewer line project were right to express their skepticism. But no issue they or others have raised gets around the need for modern sewage disposal in the heart of the village. The absence of a central system deters businesses from opening and puts downward pressure on the value of everybody’s  property. It threatens the health and prosperity of the community. The board deserves public support for moving ahead with this project. The future of the village depends on it.

 

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