New wastewater plant is on schedule
WATKINS GLEN--Despite some weather delays, Montour Falls and Watkins Glen village officials are confident the new $32 million wastewater treatment plant will open as scheduled March 24. Built through a combination of grants and bonds, Montour Falls is footing 30 percent of the bill while Watkins Glen pays for the remaining 70 percent.
"The old plant is under consent order because it's an old plant, with the new plant we are starting off fresh. It's better designed to meet the limitations that the DEC is putting upon treatment plants. It will be easier to operate and have a higher capacity," said Terry Wilcox, sewer department manager of Watkins Glen.
The fact that the new facility means the fines and warnings that were accruing under the current wastewater treatment plants will stop is a big deal, Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk said.
"The nice thing is that we won't have any more fines or threats of fines, Montour had a real aging facility as well that was on its last legs," Leszyk said.
Montour Falls Mayor John King agreed.
"Our plant is old and not operating very well so we will be glad to have a new modern up to date facility that we share," King said.
While Wilcox was adamant that drinking water quality as it is for both Montour and Watkins is perfectly fine to drink, he did say the new plant will reduce the amount of nutrients that are introduced into Seneca Lake.
"The new plant will be better at treating nutrients like phosphorus so it will lessen a lot of the nutrients going out into receiving stream. It will have a positive effect on things like algae production," Wilcox said.
Protecting Seneca Lake is key for village officials, Leszyk said.
"One of our biggest tourism aspects is the lake, and beyond that it's a vital resource for drinking so we don't want to harm the lake in any way," Leszyk said.
How much the new wastewater treatment plant will reduce algae production remains to be seen, Wilcox added, as most algae production in Seneca Lake is a reduction of farm runoff.
"But it still will help," Wilcox said.
While residents of Montour and Watkins won't see any change they notice in their water once the new plant goes online, the change to the villages themselves may be substantial in time.
"We will have a higher capacity, increasing by 500,000 gallons per day to 1.2 million," Wilcox said.
Both King and Leszyk said the new capacity isn't only for handling sudden influxes of people like during race season at Watkins Glen, but for village growth as well.
"We want high capacity for growth," Leszyk said, who added that the increased capacity will also allow surrounding villages like Dix or Reading to latch onto the system with growth in mind, should they choose.
The new wastewater treatment plant will also reduce issues created by heavy rains that the current system has difficulty handling once it goes on line. Leszyk said construction of the plant, which is taking place just behind the Watkins Glen Community Center by Clute Park, is going well despite weather delays.
"Every day something new goes in, they are enclosing the buildings and the tanks are already in," Leszyk said.
In order to ensure that Watkins residents are not hit by a sudden increase in their water bill Wilcox said that the village has been steadily increasing rates over the last few years to bring local rates more in line with state averages.
"There might be one or two more slight increases left," Wilcox said.
The increases are necessary Wilcox said because mismanagement and underfunding is exactly why the village's current wastewater treatment plant is being fined by state agencies for not being up to par.
"(Rates are being raised) so that kind of, now I'm trying to be diplomatic and not use the word negligence, so those actions don't happen again," Wilcox said, adding, "Lack of money controls everything, that is why infrastructure is failing nationwide because elected officials don't want to raise rates meaning repairs aren't done and systems fail."
For his part King, whose final term as mayor runs out the end of March, said he is the last remaining official left who started the process to get the new wastewater treatment plant built 10 years ago.
"I'm the only one left of the original crew and I'm retiring after this. I'm glad to see it go into service before I leave. I think it is a significant step forward for the two villages," King said.
Despite opening the end of March, both villages will not be on the new system until April, Wilcox said. Once on the new system, the old plants will be decommissioned and dismantled with an eye towards redevelopment.
"Both of us will be redeveloping the sites of the existing plants and there are studies going on to determine what we are going to do. We are also developing a trail on top of the force mains to create a new trail around the two villages. We are hoping that will be a good tourist attraction as well," King said.