Communities seek water infrastructure investment

ALBANY — New York community advocates are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allocate an annual investment to water infrastructure as he prepares his 2017-18 budget proposal for the state Legislature, and local village officials are on board.

The request from Environmental Advocates of New York follows several studies on immediate and long-term needs that indicate at least $800 million is needed annually to repair and replace the state’s wastewater infrastructure alone, according to a press release.

Saranac Lake Village Manager John Sweeney said he fully supports the initiative as he thinks it’s a great opportunity for small communities.

“Any municipality in the North Country is going to tell you they are at more than average age in the vast majority of their infrastructure … well over 50 years old, approaching more like 100 years old,” Sweeney said. “We just put $15 million in (to our infrastructure) and we think we put about 15 or 16 thousand feet in, and we own 30 some miles.”

He added that any time a municipality can team up with another program for infrastructure, it’s a huge benefit as the municipality does not have to raise the money and is able to stretch their dollars further in other areas.

Tupper Lake Village Mayor Paul Maroun agreed that the request is important to help out smaller communities with their drinking water and sewer needs.

“It would be a benefit to small villages and towns, like Tupper Lake, where the taxpayers can’t afford to do it on their own,” Maroun said.

He said the village has received both outright grants and low-interest loans from the Environmental Facilities Corporation.

“It’s certainly beneficial to the people of the village and town of Tupper Lake because it ensures that we have cleaner water and purer water at a lower cost to the ratepayers in the community,” Maroun said.

New York reported the greatest documented need for investment in drinking and wastewater infrastructure nationwide in 2012 at $31.4 billion, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 Clean Watersheds Needs Survey.

William Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said the initiative is significant for communities, especially in the Adirondacks.

“The Adirondack Park is the source of the Hudson River and many of the state’s other major rivers, making our small, rural communities the first line of defense for much of the state’s water,” Janeway said. “All of our towns have only a few hundred, or a few thousand, residents to foot the bill for multi-million dollar clean water projects. Those towns need help bridging the gap between what is needed and what they can afford.”

Environmental Advocates is also proposing that Cuomo instate the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015, a program he created, as a permanent budget line item, the press release said.

The program, which began with an initial $200 million investment over three years, grew by another $200 million over the same time period in the 2016-2017 budget, however just $175 million remains in the program today.

In addition, the EFC stated in its 2017 “Intended Use Plan” that demand for financial assistance outweighs the availability of funds.

Environmental Advocates has received support for the initiatives from Ross Pepe, president of the Construction Industry Council and executive director of the Construction Advancement Institute, Paul Gallay, Hudson Riverkeeper, and Tracy Brown, director of Western Sound Programs at Save the Sound.

Liz Marcello, campaign manager for Reinvent Albany, Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, Erin Crotty, executive director of Audubon New York, and Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson, also spoke in support of the cause, according to the press release.

The advocates agreed the investment must be made to protect the environment, economy and quality of life of citizens in New York state communities.

“Citizens have the basic expectation of government that the water they drink and recreate in is clean and healthy,” said Liz Moran, water and natural resources associate of Environment Advocates. “This responsibility has become a challenge due to old, dilapidated pipes hurting our communities, our waterways, and making it harder to grow local economies. The good news is that the Governor has begun to turn around decades of inadequate investment — and with a greater focus on the safety of our water, the Governor’s leadership can help all communities #FixOurPipes!”

Calls to Tupper Lake Town Supervisor Patricia Littlefield and Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall were not returned by press time.