OLEAN, NY – The City of Olean Common Council has authorized the use of $520,000 of contingency funds on the upgrade of the Wastewater Treatment  Plant.

The plant, which is located at 174 S. 19th St., had its last major renovations in the 1970s. Olean officials were under pressure by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Region 2 of the United States Environmental Protection Agency to make upgrades or face fines.

“We had the choice to do this project or take the typical fine which is like $16,000 a day,” Alderman Kevin Dougherty said. “That’s quite a big number compared to making the investment into changing the plant, and then it is something that needed to be addressed anyways as it is getting older.”

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The total cost of the project that began in the fall of 2015 had a price tag of $23.25 million, with over one million dollars set aside for use as contingency funds. The city had to tap into those funds due to unforeseen costs in construction.

“Out of a 20-plus million project, it’s insignificant in that regard,” Dougherty said. “A lot of times it is more than the $520,000. It is a pretty light dive into that contingency that was already built in. So everything went according to plan, but we just had this little snag.”

The contingency funds will help to upgrade new pumps, filters and waste-processing containers.

The reason the DEC had been pressuring the city for over a decade was because of what happened to the plant after major rainstorms, according to Alderman Nate Smith.

“Unfortunately during large rain events, which happen occasionally throughout the year, the plant couldn’t handle the capacity,” Smith said. “When the plant can’t handle the capacity, the sewage bypasses the plant and is ejected into the river unfiltered and unclean.”

The project was paid for through the sale of bonds, and the contingency funds did not cost taxpayers any additional money, according to Dougherty.

The DEC had given Olean until fall of this year to begin work on the project or face the hefty fines of $16,000 daily that Dougherty mentioned. The DEC could have actually charged the city close to $40,000 a day if it was out of compliance with environmental regulations, with a maximum fine of $100 million, according to Olean Mayor William Aiello.

Stopping the untreated sewage going into the Allegheny River was the biggest concern, and that is why officials had no choice but to tap into the contingency fund to make sure the problem was fixed for good, according to Alderman Jerry LeFeber, who is the chair of the sewage and water committee.

“It was something that was explained to us quite thoroughly, and the money was there to be used, so we had no choice but to make the necessary modifications,” LeFeber said.

Construction is expected to be finished by mid-2017, in time for some of those heavy summer rains, LeFeber said.