By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
From plumbing crises on Parrott Street to the merits of “fire bubble” versus “coarse” aeration at the treatment plant, sewer-related infrastructure problems spilled onto the agenda of the Cold Spring Village Board workshop on Tuesday (March 29). Parrott Street residents Bill LeMon and Yolanda Kiesbye related sewage back-ups over a recent weekend and debated with the board whether the village, or the individual homeowners, are responsible for a major backyard pipe in question. The residents firmly put the onus on the village. The Village Board sounded far from convinced, providing a page of village code that deals with such matters. It states that “the property owner shall bear the entire expense of all connections to the public sewer or the building connection lateral “¦ and thereafter the repair and maintenance and replacement of said building connection lateral and building sewer shall be the responsibility of the property-owner served by same.”
According to LeMon, of 39 Parrott St., the sewer line backed up at his home and at 37 Parrott Street, where “sewage and sludge was pouring into the Kiesbye basement.” A plumbing firm used a rooter and heavy water pressure and got the pipe cleared for one house but for the other “could not get through,” the obstacles, necessitating more involved repairs, LeMon said. Responding to the emergency, various village officials, including Water and Sewer Superintendent Gregory Phillips and Mayor Seth Gallagher, visited the site. The mayor even abandoned a Sunday maple sugar outing with his children “and I really appreciate that,” LeMon acknowledged.
The ensuing excavation and nature of the repairs “tells me there was a blockage in your line,” LeMon told the board. He said that what he termed “the village’s trunk line “¦ trunk or main “¦ goes down our backyards into the main [pipe] at the bottom of Bank Street. That’s the line that’s yours,” as opposed to the lines coming directly out of each house, he said. “What I’m actually contending is that the clog was in your sewer line. You had a blockage in your line,” LeMon argued.
“No, you had a blockage in your line,” Gallagher responded.
“But you’ve already taken over the line,” LeMon asserted.
At the very least, “It’s not exactly clear,” Gallagher said. “We can round and round on this.”
Inevitably in such cases “you have to decide who owns what.” Phillips said. He, the four Village Board members in attendance (with Trustee Airinhos Serradas absent), and the residents agreed that the murky history of the sewer system along Parrott Street complicates matters. “There is no specific lay-out where the thing runs through the properties,” Phillips said of the neighborhood line in question. The sewer system is believed to be more than 100 years old and, as Gallagher pointed out, over the decades residents have put swimming pools and built other amenities on top of the line, with no clear village easements to reach it. “You know, there’s a long-standing problem there,” he said.
“Underground in Parrott Street you have a mess. We have a situation here I don’t think you have anywhere else in the village,” LeMon added. “What I’m asking is, in the future, what is the village going to do?” He claimed that when a similar problem occurred elsewhere on Parrott Street three or four years ago, the village pledged to assume ownership of the backyard line and defrayed some of costs of repairs borne by the two families involved in that incident. “This could be a precedent,” LeMon said.
“It wouldn’t necessarily be a precedent,” Gallagher answered. “In this case, we have to act on it as the law is. The village can do things incorrectly in the past. It doesn’t mean we have to continue to do them incorrectly.” The mayor asked LeMon to provide a written account of the latest problems and in turn promised to search village records for reports on what might have been agreed upon four years ago, to check on the village’s legal obligations, and to otherwise review the matter. “We will get back to you about it. I promise.”
“Aside from that, we want to know what the future of that line is,” LeMon said. “I’m remembering all these political promises” about better sidewalks and lights made before the March 15 election, in which Gallagher won a second term. “You have a bigger problem underground than you have with lights and sidewalks. It’s something you’ve got to deal with.”
“We have tons of problems. I know that. We have a third of the fire-flow [in pipes] we should have” to fight fires, among other water-related infrastructure needs, Gallagher concurred.
LeMon also objected to being unable to reach officials at the village hall phone number on weekends when something like a sewage back-up occurs. “Your village office was called. I would rather not call 911 with a flushing emergency. My point is if you call the village on this type of emergency, you have no way to get anybody to respond.”
After breaking up the meeting temporarily to enter an executive session to address personnel questions, the board members resumed talk of the Parrott Street sewer concerns, though by then the Parrott Street residents and nearly everyone else in the audience had left. “I wouldn’t mind working with the LeMons and Kiesbyes to try to get a handle on this problem,” volunteered Falloon, who lives nearby on West Bank Street and witnessed some of the LeMon-Kiesbye repair operations. “There’s some options there.”
“I know it’s something that’s a heavy budget issue, once you start to look at it,” said Bruce Campbell, who serves as deputy mayor as well as a trustee. “You’ve got to come up with a policy that’s a set policy” and not fluctuating from year to year.
On another sewer-related infrastructure need, the Village Board voted 4-0 to spend $5,000 for a preliminary study to weigh the merits of installing “fine bubble aeration,” as opposed to a “coarse air” version, to update the 1972 equipment in the waste-water treatment plant. Proposed by Phillips, the preliminary study would help determine the best way to proceed in a $20,000 to $40,000 plant upgrade, using either the “coarse air” aeration method, at $25,000 to $30,000, or the “fine bubble” alterative, at $35,000 to $40,000 “Both options are going to save money and efficiency” overall, Phillips explained. At this juncture, “we’re talking spending $5,000 to get a much clearer picture” of the best approach, Gallagher said. “I think it’s a great idea.”