Amenia sewer in the pipeline?

There are two main takeaways from the recent Amenia Wastewater Committee (AWC) presentation made at the Thursday, Aug. 18, Amenia Town Board meeting.

One: Amenia, like so many other municipalities throughout the Harlem Valley, the state and the country, is in dire need of a wastewater system to ensure its economic future and vitality.

Two: The town needs to act quickly in order to take advantage of what AWC Chairman Charlie Miller described as “free money.” The opportunity to find subsidized funding for such a massive infrastructure project is a rare occurrence.

That “free money,” explained Miller to the those who attended the AWC presentation, is the result of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP). The ARP was developed to help municipalities in need of major infrastructure improvements recover from the devastating economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic — still making its mark — with wastewater topping many communities’ lists.

Miller said if Amenia acts quickly — which is critical — there’s a “real possibility” the installation of a wastewater system in the main hamlet’s business district could get 75% of its funding from the federal government. It’s an opportunity not to be missed, he said. We completely agree.

The ARC chairman added that this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity… will go away if we don’t take advantage of it.”

Again, Miller is absolutely correct, which is why we’re pleased the Amenia Town Board commissioned the engineering firm, Tighe & Bond, to conduct the feasibility study that was presented on Aug. 18.

A sewer system, by the way, would help protect water quality and public health. It requires underground pipes and manholes, pumping stations and additional appurtenances to transport sewage from residential and commercial properties within the sewer district to a wastewater treatment plant. At the plant, the sewage gets cleaned and then returned to the environment.

Without a central system, property owners rely on private septic systems. For businesses, septics are less than ideal — especially antiquated ones like those that line Main Street (Route 343) in Amenia.

Tighe & Bond’s study included the consultants’ analysis, as well as results from 1,000 surveys sent out in December 2021. The survey helped gauge the sewer needs of the town, but a lackluster response only provided a partial picture. With the response rate barely besting 25%, only 271 Amenia property owners responded to the questionnaire.

Of those who did, a large numbers complained of septic problems in the hamlet, including foul smells, slow drainage and sewage backup.

According to the AWC, 56% of respondents said they were “aware of septic issues in the business district,” with 66% believing a central sewer system would behoove the hamlet; 33% noted they would be interested in hooking up to that system once installed.

The full survey results will soon be posted on the town’s Facebook page, said Miller, as will recordings of all future AWC presentations. Promoting transparency, we give high marks to Miller for wanting the community to stay in the loop regarding any developments related to the project.

In total, 15 potential wastewater treatment sites were considered; 12 were eliminated during due diligence and three were examined in the report. An 8.47-acre parcel owned by Silo Ridge on Route 22 just north of town was considered in a previous feasibility study and was again evaluated. The site was eliminated from consideration as engineers decided it was not large enough for subsurface discharge and too far away from a stream for surface discharge, explained Miller. A .7-acre town-owned lot on Mechanic Street near the Harlem Valley Rail Trail was also passed over because of limited size.

A secluded 3.44-acre lot owned by the Leonard family, located behind the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office substation, which abuts Amenia Stream was chosen. The proximity to the stream will allow for surface discharge.

The absence of a wastewater system in Amenia is not due to lack of effort. Past studies were conducted to evaluate the need and the costs for installing a sewer in the main hamlet. The town commissioned reviews in 1995, 2003, 2009 and 2012, but the steep price tag made the project prohibitive at each attempt. Miller explained part of the high cost included sewer hookup and maintenance, and operations, which heretofore made a central sewer financially impossible for Amenia.

Those concerns, of course, all translate into dollars and cents for the town and its taxpayers. The possibility of obtaining ARP funding now, though, changes the equation, said Miller. That’s why the AWC is pushing forward so furiously to see the project through to fruition. The town is all too aware of how quickly such potential opportunities may be lost.

Let’s hope the community will support the AWC’s efforts and that plans can be swiftly executed — but most of all that Amenia gets hold of the critical ARP funding to make sure its hopes for a wastewater system and a brighter future don’t go down the drain.

To learn more, see ‘Free money’ could be key to central sewer in Amenia.

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