BEDFORD, N.Y. – Legislation signed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo has paved the way for the transfer of a wastewater treatment plant that services the Taconic and Bedford Hills correctional facilities to the town of Bedford for $1.
The underutilized treatment plant, owned by the state, has enough excess room to take on sewage from the Bedford Hills/Katonah Business Sewer District, which property owners in the district voted overwhelmingly to create in 2017, with more than 90 percent supporting it. These properties are in the Croton Watershed and run on septic systems, which are prone to failure and can potentially contaminate New York City’s drinking water, said Supervisor Chris Burdick.
For that reason, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection is funding a large portion of the approximate $21 million cost of the new sewer hook-ups. Burdick said the Department of Environmental Protection is contributing $13.1 million; $6.5 million is coming from Westchester County’s East of Hudson Funds, which were awarded by the DEP more than a decade ago to support water quality investments in the Croton and Kensico watersheds; and $1.2 million will be borrowed by the town and paid back by property owners in the district.
Burdick said he expects the city’s funds will be finalized in six months or so. At that time, the town will go out to bid on its construction plans. He expects to see shovels in the ground in the fall of 2019.
The creation of the new sewer connections would solve two problems, Burdick said. Not only is this an important environmental measure for the region, he said, but the connections would revitalize the Bedford Hills and Katonah business districts.
“Had we continued without taking these measures, then we would be seeing the slow but steady decline in the economic vitality of both hamlets,” Burdick said. “Because the needed rules to protect the water quality means that businesses can’t change. They can’t increase their water flow. That means you can’t take a dry use and convert it to a restaurant.”
Alan Eifert, co-chair of the Katonah Chamber of Commerce, applauded the legislation.
“Thanks to the legislation passed by our state representatives, important infrastructure improvements are coming to the area, and the business community appreciates that our elected officials continue to work with us as partners,” Eifert said.
The bill was supported in Albany by Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-Mount Kisco) and Sen. Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers). It unanimously passed both houses.
Buchwald said allowing Bedford to take ownership of an existing plant, rather than having to construct an entirely new plant, will save the town millions of dollars.
“This is not a routine thing that is done in New York State, to transfer state land over to a local government that will continue providing services back to a state facility,” Buchwald said.
Buchwald and Mayer said Burdick was relentless in his support for this legislation. Mayer was elected on April 25 to replace George Latimer, who took over as Westchester county executive in January.
“I think on April 25, Chris Burdick called me and said, ‘We need this bill.’ And he did not stop calling me until we got this bill,” Mayer said.
The bill originated in the Assembly and was passed there in 2017. It was not brought to the Senate floor until June 6, when it passed by a 61-0 vote. The Democratic officials thanked their Republican colleagues for unanimously supporting the measure both locally and in Albany.
“This is where government works well,” Burdick said. “This is where government identifies problems, rolls up the sleeves and goes about to finding solutions.”
Buchwald said there is still “much work to be done,” but the transfer of the treatment plant was an important hurdle to clear.
“On some level, with this legislation now being enacted, the baton has passed back to the town to execute what is a very exciting project to come,” Buchwald said.
Burdick said Bedford is “Ground Zero” for septic and cesspool problems in Westchester County. Getting the business districts hooked up will solve many of those problems, he said.
“We wanted to identify the areas that most needed the fix to the septic and cesspools and we have, and in fact, those are the business districts,” he said.
He said the town will work simultaneously on developing a Phase 2, the scope of which is not yet defined. Burdick said homeowners may be hesitant to add sewers because of how expensive they are.
“We have not identified what Phase 2 would be,” Burdick said. “I don’t think that Phase 2 would be able to be the entirety of the balance of those areas that are going to need to do it. We’re going to have to do this a step at a time.”
Whatever Phase 2 ultimately looks like, Burdick said, Bedford will “not let up” when it comes to solving the wastewater problems in Bedford Hills and Katonah. He said Buchwald and Mayer can expect to hear more from him in the future.
“This is step one, because we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.