State provides $300K county grant
SCHUYLER COUNTY—Schuyler County and the villages of Watkins Glen and Montour Falls were awarded a $300,000 grant towards building a new, intermunicipal wastewater treatment plant, Wednesday, Dec. 19.
Schuyler was one of 62 projects in the Southern Tier approved for funds by New York State’s Regional Economic Development Councils.
When County Administrator Tim O’Hearn traveled to Albany for the awards distribution, he says he was still in suspense about whether the grant would be made. $750,000 had been requested for the project, but last year the Southern Tier region in general had not fared as well as expected, receiving only about $49 million from the state, which sounds like a lot until it’s divided among all the participating municipalities. This year, O’Hearn and others knew ahead of time their applications were highly rated, but the specifics of grant distribution were unknown.
Among reasons the Schuyler plan fared well is its intention to consolidate services for the two villages. As Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) Executive Director J. Kelsey Jones summed it up in a press release, “In addition to the environmental benefits, the replacement of the villages’ two existing facilities would free up their waterfront locations for future economic development and ensure both communities have sufficient wastewater treatment capacity to support their long term growth.”
“We’re very excited about it,” says Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton. “It’s exactly what we needed. Of course we could have used more, but it’s a great start. These funds will allow us to acquire the property and design the facility. It’s an exciting time for us!”
Starting in January, Swinnerton explains, the municipalities will focus on acquiring the land needed for the new plant. Meanwhile, the concept will be evaluated by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Prior to applying for grant funding, the municipalities commissioned a Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) which included a survey. “You have to make sure the concept would work because when you’re pumping two miles, you’ve got to make sure it’s feasible,” Swinnerton says.
“The wastewater treatment initiative addresses significant problems with the current facilities in both villages, primarily due to their age and changing regulatory requirements,” says John King, Montour Falls mayor.
“That $300,000 will allow us to begin the preliminary design and planning for a regional wastewater treatment plant,” O’Hearn says. “The PER submission was critical in allowing the project to move forward with the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) for low interest loans or an outright grant.” The EFC money has not yet been committed, but Schuyler County’s wastewater treatment application received a good ranking. And in the question of whether the EFC money, if eventually offered to Schuyler County, comes as a zero-interest loan or an outright grant, county officials are hopeful. O’Hearn said, “A hardship determination might be granted based on the Watkins Glen plant’s inefficiencies and inability to meet discharge standards.” The formal application for EFC funding has to be made before April 1, 2013.
Additionally, O’Hearn emphasizes, a new wastewater treatment facility would be “markedly different” from the current one. “Given the technology available and new plant design, it can coexist well with other [nearby] uses. We’ve visited plants in other parts of the state located in residential neighborhoods with virtually no impact. This will not impede future development along the canal.”
“The development of the regional wastewater treatment facility will free up key lakefront and canal properties in the villages of Watkins Glen and Montour Falls for beneficial economic development,” Swinnerton says. “Both sites are prime waterfront locations that can be redeveloped for retail, hotel, restaurant and recreational uses, consistent with the long-term master development plans for our respective communities.”
Preliminary design, environmental reviews and permits for the new regional wastewater treatment facility could be completed by late 2013, which means the facility could open by the end of 2016.
“It’s a long process, everything has to go through a planning process and then an approval process,” says Jones. This grant confirms the plans are on the right track, he adds, “And it’s nice to have some help along the way.”
The $300,000 grant was part of $91.1 million awarded in total to the Southern Tier Regional Council for 62 projects. The council covers Schuyler, Steuben, Chemung, Tompkins, Tioga, Broome, Chenango, and Delaware Counties.
Another local grant was $150,000 awarded for the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development to undertake Franklin Street redevelopment in the village of Watkins Glen.
Other region-wide awards included:
• $2.5 million for the Southern Tier Telemedicine and Mobile Health Care Technology Fund Initiative.
• $2.5 million for the continuation of Southern Tier Community Revitalization Program.
• $1.5 million for the continuation of Southern Tier Infrastructure Fund to support the development of Shovel Ready Sites.