(Additional reporting by BRIAN NEARING was published previously in the Times Union and is used here with permission)
GHENT–County officials will gather next week to discuss the options for stemming pollution from the waste treatment plant that serves 30 or more businesses in the Gerald R. Simons Commerce Park. The action comes in the wake of an $8,000 fine levied against the county by the state Department of Environmental Conservation last month.
The county, which owns the park and operates the sewage treatment plant for businesses located near the county airport along state Routes 66 and 9H, has until August 1 to come up with a plan to correct the release of treated solid waste that exceeds permitted levels. The plan has to include an estimate of the cost of replacing the plant, according to a consent order from the DEC that Supervisor Matt Murrell (R-Stockport), chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, signed February 17, 2016.
County Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons said this week that no untreated waste has been released and that the plant, which processes an average of 20,000 gallons of wastewater a day, is operating at well below its limit of 50,000 gallons per day.
But problems with the plant’s release of particles called total suspended solids (TSS) and a related measurement called biological oxygen demand (BOD) have persisted where the wastewater treatment plant’s effluent enters Mud Creek, which flows intermittently and eventually enters the Hudson River.
The Times Union first reported last week the latest fine against the treatment plant was the fourth one issued by the DEC. The plant was built in 1992 and latest order says compliance violations go back to the year 2000. But the latest ones appear to be severe, with the BOD levels last May rising to almost six times the permitted limit.
Mr. Fitzsimmons told Times Union reporter Brian Nearing that “the county has put hundreds of thousands of dollars” into upgrades and repairs over the years to reduce the solids in the treated wastewater and it has filtration systems designed to remove them before the water is released. But he said that during dry periods, when the creek is not fed by natural sources, the water from the plant is the only water in the stream, so the concentration of solids rises.
Increased presence of small suspended solids raise nitrogen levels in the water and lead to algae blooms that lower the oxygen levels. Reduced oxygen in the water can harm aquatic plant and animal life.
Dan Shapley, water quality manager at the environmental group Riverkeeper, which monitors sewage levels in the Hudson River, told the Times Union that DEC first demanded in February 2011 that the county hire a professional engineer to study the problems and potential solutions to the treatment plant.
The county agreed to that requirement as part of a settlement order; that demand was repeated by DEC in a September 2014 settlement order with the county; and the demand is now part of the most recent settlement. “It seems like the county has been avoiding this engineering study for many years,” Mr. Shapley said. “I don’t understand why it would take so long.”
“The sewer plant has been a challenge,” Mr. Fitzsimmons told the Times Union. “We have done everything that we can to bring it into compliance.”
The county has paid a price for its inability to comply with the standards. Since 2011, the county has been fined $22,200 for 114 unsafe sewage violations into the creek going back as far as April 2008; that includes a $8,000 fine for about two dozen of the most recent violations between June 2014 and November 2015, although $3,000 of the latest fine has been suspended pending compliance with the latest state consent order.
“It is imperative that the discharges from the Commerce Park sewage treatment plant comply with DEC standards. The county should utilize appropriate resources and provide financial support to ensure that the effluent from this facility meet or exceed DEC standards,” said Ed Simonsen, chairman of the county Environmental Management Council in an email to The Columbia Paper.
Among the customers for sewer service from the commerce park is the Whittier Rehabilitation and Nursing facility in Route 66. And the Ginsberg’s Food warehouse will have water and sewer service from the park when it is built.
Businesses in the park own their lots, Mr. Fitzsimmons said, and they pay the county for the sewer service including capital costs. That could raise some issues if the only solution is, as the latest order suggests, building a new wastewater treatment facility. “Replacing it with a $3 million plant would definitely be a high expenditure,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said.
He said the county can borrow the funds through a bond, but the costs would be passed on to the businesses using the treatment plant.
That may be one of the issues the new county sewer committee takes up next Wednesday, March 30 at 4 p.m. at the county office building, 401 State Street.
The consent order agreed to last month says that the county has until December 2019 to have a new system in place that meets the standards.