Monday, June 4, 2007

OD Sez: Let The Fecal Fountain Flow!

Sunday's Observer-Dispatch included an amazing editorial endorsing the continued dumping of hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Mohawk River. Of course, that's not quite how they put it, but that's what it boils down to.

There's a lot of shouting going on over New York state's development ban imposed on parts of Oneida County due to a problem that's causing untreated sewage to be dumped into the Mohawk River from a Yorkville pumping station.

Who's to blame for what doesn't matter. What matters is that everybody — federal, state and local officials — come together and figure out how to get the problem fixed.

Well, yes, it actually does matter who's to blame. It's obvious that the state was aware the continued development of the New Hartford area caused the total collapse of the sewage system. How long has it been going on? Who approved these projects on the local level? Were the rated throughputs totally ignored? If they were, why? Once it became clear human feces was flowing into the river who signed off on adding even more hookups to the system?

This isn't just some minor little tiff about dirty water. Water-born diseases like giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis are already endemic across most of the state thanks to poor water quality controls and bad hygienic practices. The hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage flowing out of the defective pumping station in question are contaminating not only the Mohawk River, but it's tributaries and the Barge Canal. That, to put it mildly, is not a big tourist draw.

This would be a good project for New York's "economic czar," Dan Gundersen. He was named by Gov. Eliot Spitzer as co-chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., the state's economic development arm, whose main responsibility is to revive the upstate economy.

Well, here's a good place for him to start. Certainly untreated sewage flowing into a river isn't acceptable. Neither is a ban on development. It's a problem that should have been addressed years ago, and given the Northeast's aging infrastructure, it's quite likely that similar problems will crop up elsewhere in the future — if they don't already exist. The larger issue here might be to chart a strategy for dealing with such problems before they reach the critical level.

In the meantime, the state has a responsibility to taxpayers living in Oneida County to address this issue without doing any more damage. Get the problem fixed as soon as possible, but let the hookups continue. The moratorium on hookups has accomplished exactly what it's supposed to do. After years of ignoring the problem Oneida County is finally paying attention to it. It's unfortunate that the situation was allowed to develop in the first place, but the ban on new construction certainly has focused everyone's attention, now hasn't it?

It's also worth noting that the Observer-Dispatch editorial board may be in the same "Huh? What sewage?" position as Anthony Picente when it comes to recognizing how serious the problem is. As I've pointed out, Mr. Picente lives upstream of the emission point, so the rafts of toilet paper and feces floating down the Mohawk River don't impact his daily existence. I'm lead to believe, and I welcome correction, that most if not all of the OD's editorial board are in the same lucky situation. In fact, since Donna Donovan and her family happen to live in New Hartford, there's a good chance it's their feces and toilet paper boaters are watching float by.