DeCicco’s isn’t even open yet, and it’s already a cautionary tale.
The boutique supermarket has had to push back its opening several times because Heritage Hills Sewer Works, the treatment plant where it plans to send its effluent, has been beset by permit problems.
The situation has frustrated and puzzled local officials eager to boost business and residents chomping at the bit for a local grocery store.
In January, Chris DeCicco, the company’s vice present, blamed the delay on “circumstances beyond our control.”
Michael Puma, its director of operations, saying the issue was “complex” and related to sewer and water issues, confirmed then that DeCicco’s was “in a holding pattern.”
A spokesman for DeCicco’s said this week that the supermarket is now planning to open about a week after Easter.
The Heritage Hills sewer plant, which is a private entity, has an agreement to deal with its multiple State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or SPDES, violations.
These violations were discussed at a recent Planning Board meeting because Urstadt Biddle, a real estate investment trust that owns the Towne Centre at Somers on Route 100, is asking to be included in the Heritage Hills sewer district. It wants to replace the center’s septic fields with a full-on sewer system.
To do this, the town first needs to determine whether or not to allow the connection through the SEQRA process. As part of SEQRA, the town, acting as the lead agency, sends Biddle's request to join the sewer district to the Planning Board for review and comment. Although Heritage Hills Sewer Works is a private entity, the town created a sewer district decades ago which means any entity seeing to connect to the system must first get approval from the town.
The process of allowing the connection is sometimes called "expansion" but it's not related to the physical work at the facility. The physical expansion and upgrades of the HH sewer plant is not reviewed or approved by the town.
The town is reviewing the design of the Biddle's infrastructure, which is unrelated to any work of the HH sewer facility.
In a March 5 letter to the Town Board, Urstadt Biddle attorney Jody Cross of Zarin & Steinmetz, attached an Order on Consent between the state DEC and HHSW.
“It is our understanding that this Order has resolved the issues between NYSDEC and HHSW’s SPDES permit,” Cross wrote.
However, it was the facts included in the Order on Consent that sparked concern at the Planning Board’s March 13 session.
Planning Board member Nancy Gerbino was taken aback that the DEC found that there had been 34 SPDES violations at the plant from February 2017 to January 2018. And from November 2017 to June 2018 it had, according to the order, documented 10 more.
On June 19, 2018, the DEC was notified of a “discharge of about 2,000 gallons of untreated sewage from the Facility (sic).”
According to the document, HHSW was hit with a “civil penalty” of $73,975, of which $20,000 was payable upon the order’s execution. The rest was “suspended” providing HHSW continues to comply with the DEC’s terms.
It was signed on Feb. 27 by Keith Sorenson, HHSW president.
Urstadt Biddle engineer Robert Aiello said at the Planning Board meeting that the plant’s status is “key” to the sewer project moving forward.
“We obviously aren’t going to do the work, or look to connect, until the issues with the plant are resolved,” he told the Planning Board.
Gerbino said she was aghast that the town didn’t have “a clue” about the number of violations HHSW had racked up between 2017 and 2018.
Whether a plant is public or private is irrelevant, she said. What’s important is that the affected community—not just state, county, and city agencies—knows when spills and such happen, she said.
Gerbino said she wasn’t so much “distressed” by the plant’s struggles as she was by the feeling that the town might have been hogtied by not being in the know for so long.
“Why didn’t this come to a head a year ago?” she asked Town Engineer Joe Barbagallo.“Because they’re private, they don’t have to tell the world they spilled raw sewage, that they violated their permit 34 times?”
“Correct,” Barbagallo answered, adding: “It’s a very frustrating matter.”
The plant’s permit allows it to process up to 702,000 gallons of wastewater a day, but it is currently handling about 300,000 gallons.
That leaves a lot of capacity for potential users.
The town itself is in the queue because of plans to create sewer districts in Shenorock and Lake Lincolndale. Some of the lake communities’ effluent will go to Peekskill, if the county, which runs the plant there, gives its blessing.
Somers is facing funding timelines and potential grabs by other municipalities for project money that’s been sitting in county coffers for years.
Barbagallo is flummoxed when fellow residents plead with him—nearly “every day”—for new news about DeCicco’s.
“So, if we were to do it again, I might want to look at how we do this, where we don’t wind up with another situation where you’ve invested a bunch of money, and the plant isn’t ready,” he told the Urstadt Biddle folks Wednesday.
Aiello answered questions from the board and Barbagallo regarding traffic flow, potential health hazards or groundwater contamination from leaking propane gas, noise factors, parking spaces, and ways to disguise and protect the above-ground generators.
Planning Board Member Dennis McNamara sat in for Chairman John Currie. Also absent was member Bruce A. Prince. Present were Gerbino, Vicky Gannon, and Eugene Goldenberg.
“Obviously, we’ve seen all the different memorandum from the DEP, the Health Department, that because there’s a current Consent Order with the plant, we certainly cannot connect or construct before that is addressed,” Aiello said.
“I’m glad you brought that up,” McNamara said. “What the hell’s going on?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Aiello responded. “We figure that once DeCicco’s is open, we’ll be good to go.”