Money for Marcellus wastewater treatment upgrade running dry

How village leaders plan to avoid yet another sewer rent rate hike

MARCELLUS, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) - In 2012, the village of Marcellus' discharge of phosphorus into Nine Mile Creek was flagged because it exceeded the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still safely meet water quality standards.

Although the water treatment plant had already been removing phosphorus before it was discharged -- they found that a plant upgrade would improve the process needed for regulations and keep it up to par with future needs.

"Because we have a discharge permit. The DEC is able to regulate us with our permit and we now have to remove a certain amount of phosphorous from what goes into Nine Mile Creek," said Ryan Riefler, a part-time wastewater operator for the village.

DPW supervisor Greg Crysler says the village has been asking for funding to help with the needed upgrade as it's been identified as part of the Onondaga Lake Watershed.

"We've always asked for money to do with Onondaga Lake Cleanup but they always kept on telling us we were outside of the lake so weren't allowed to get any of the super fund money because we're too far away from the lake," Crysler said.

The village is looking at a $5.6 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade.

According to the DEC, the maximum phosphorus discharge allowed is 1,000 pounds per year. Riefler says the village's current annual discharge average is 2,000 pounds.

Getting all the money needed to fully upgrade the plant could mean raising what village leaders say are already very high sewer rent rates. 

Marcellus Mayor John Curtin worries this could keep people from moving to the village and buying a house or open a business.

"We don't have much to attract people here except our schools and that's good," Curtin said. "People pay the taxes, school tax, a significant one, but they do it because they love the school district. We don't have a Welch Allyn like Skaneateles or Tessy Plastics like Elbridge. We have no industry to speak of."

Even with some grants and recent rate hikes, the village is short $1M in project funds.

Mayor Curtin says village sewer rent rates have already been raised too much.

"If we have to raise them again, it will be another 40 percent and hat will break the banks of our sewer users," Curtin said. "We just can't do that."

The current rate is $390.65 and it could go up another $150 if more funding is not secured for the project.

Crysler and Riefler say the plant's crew is always looking for ways to better serve the village and save everyone money. For example. the village has been taking wood chips and mixing it with solid waste from the sewage treatment plant to make compost.

Village neighbors can pick it up for free and the plant doesn't have to haul it away. This saves the village tens of thousands of dollars, but not enough to make up the project fund gap.

Riefler says the village's discharge only accounts for about 2% of the total phosphorus ending up in the creek and that the remaining total does not include other sources such as farms.

Mayor Curtin says he has been optimistic in working with the DEC's regional office and also Sen. John DeFrancisco to find more sources for funding. However, Curtin says the village is finding it challenging to get direct answers about available funding sources.

In the meantime, Curtin encourages neighbors to reach out to local lawmakers to raise awareness to the village's project funding issues.

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