PATERSON, NJ - Facing possible environmental fines of $5,000 per day, the City Council on Tuesday approved a $829,690 increase on a $3.3 million construction contract designed to prevent sewage from backing up into people's homes during heavy rains.

Under the contract expansion, a sewer line would be built under Route 20, between 3rd and 4th avenues, to carry sewer overflows from that 3rd Ward neighborhood into the Passaic River, said Public Works Director Christopher Coke. A new strip malll is being built in the area.

The problem stems from Paterson's antiquated sewer system in which pipes carry sewage as well as runoff from snow and rain. Under that system, sometimes during heavy rains there's too much going through the pipes and sewage backs up into homes and businesses. To prevent that, the city has built various outfalls - concrete boxes with pipes inside - around Paterson that carry excess stormwater directly to the river.

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The Route 20 outfall was supposed to be built under the original 2009 contract with Scafar Contracting of Newark, but was removed when two state agencies - Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Transportation - couldn't agree on how the work near the highway should be done, Coke said. So the Route 20 job was pulled from the contract to avoid delaying the construction of the other outfalls, Coke said.

Now that the two state agencies have reached an agreement on the work, Paterson is expanding the original contract to include the Route 20 job.

The money for the work already has been borrowed and set aside in previous bonds, officials said. If the city delayed approved the change order on the contract, it risked $5,000 per day penalties from the state, Coke said.

The city hopes Scafar can start work soon so the project would be completed before the spring rainy season, according to Coke.