Board members cite limits of backyard septic systems
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Nelsonville’s Village Board informally agreed on Monday (Sept. 17) to pursue grant funding to study the feasibility of installing sewers in the village, where many buildings rely on septic systems and other underground disposals.
Mayor Bill O’Neill proposed the study and the four trustees agreed on the merits of determining the costs and extent of work required. They estimated that about 380 structures would require hook-ups and that streets would have to be excavated to install lines.
The pipes would connect with the 46-year-old Cold Spring sewage treatment plant.
Greg Phillips, the water and sewer superintendent for Cold Spring, said on Tuesday that the plant could handle the Nelsonville sewage although whether technical modifications might be necessary remains unclear. Also, engineers and the state Department of Environmental Conservation and other agencies would have to review the details, he said.
Nelsonville receives tap water from the Cold Spring water system, with individual households billed for usage (as they are in Cold Spring), and sewer fees presumably could be charged the same way. Given the scope of the project, “billing would be the easy part,” Phillips said.
The village has contemplated its own sewer system before. In 1968, as Cold Spring prepared to launch its sewage treatment operations, O’Neill said, Nelsonville calculated that laying its own lines would cost $700,000 (about $5 million today). About 20 years ago, during road work on Main Street (Route 301), Nelsonville missed another opportunity, Trustee Mike Bowman recalled.
Because of its substantial cost, a sewer system would require bonding, even if the village were to receive significant grant money for construction, O’Neill said.
Residents would also have to pay for sewer hook-ups and septic system decommissioning, he noted. “That may not be a particularly popular action, although in my opinion it’s one that will ultimately add to the value of homes,” he said.
He said that the village’s consultants have also predicted “that this would eventually lead to an overall reduction in costs,” because they would be shared by a larger population. He said dependence on septic systems in a compact community raises health and environmental questions.
O’Neill emphasized that nothing major will happen immediately. “This is a huge undertaking and the only thing we can do at this point is take some small steps to evaluate our plan,” he said.
Bowman described the idea as worth pursuing. “Septic systems aren’t viable moving forward” when homes stand in close proximity to one another, he said.
Trustee Chris Caccamise said that “every year we delay, a large number of septic systems have to be replaced or repaired.”
Trustee Alan Potts found the idea “worth investigating” but said the board needed to be “cognizant of how far in debt to put our village.”
The village’s comprehensive plan, written in 1984 and updated in 1991, foresaw the possibility of extending sewers to the central neighborhoods of Nelsonville, where homes are close together, but not to the more suburban fringes.
In other business on Sept. 17, O’Neill reported that Bill Bujarski, the building inspector, has suggested revisions to the village code but that Nelsonville must first update its comprehensive plan. The board voted unanimously to pursue grant money to do that. “I’m not going to engage a consultant” to assist with the effort “until there’s grant money,” O’Neill said.