The Multi-Million Dollar Question: Yorktown Sewer Plans Hinge on Costs


YORKTOWN, N.Y. - What’s it going to cost?

That’s the figurative $10 million question for the Town Board as it tries to piece together the steps necessary to meet New York City’s directive to reduce phosphorous in stormwater runoff entering its drinking water at the Croton Reservoir by connecting homes that rely on septic systems to the municipal sewer system.

At a special informational meeting called by the governing body on June 12, all the major players took turns at the podium to explain how homeowners specifically in the Hallocks Mill Sewer District might be best served by the $10 million on tap from the Northern Westchester Watershed Committee and Westchester County to tie into the municipal treatment plant on Greenwood Street.

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Supervisor Ilan Gilbert sounded the alarm on the need to act, before another municipality picks the town’s pocket, on an issue he said the town has been struggling with “for the past 20 years”: “sewers and properties in the Hallocks Mill Sewer District that are on septic.”

To underscore the need for urgency, Gilbert related an exchange he had at his first East of Hudson Watershed Corp. meeting while serving as supervisor. “They were saying, if you’re not going to spend the money, then we’ll give it to someone else. And I said no, we will work on a plan.

“I understand their pressure. They’ve gone through their first round of funding, and different monies were allotted to the different towns. They can’t go for a second round of funding until they spend all of their first round, and that’s why they’re putting pressure on those towns that haven’t expended the monies.”

Even so, Gilbert said, the $10 million allocation is a “far cry” from the numbers being floated to do the so-called “build-out” of the Hallocks Mill Sewer District, at an estimate of $34 million to $40 million.

Considering the projected total outlay, along with such physical limitations as the treatment plant’s allowable capacity—it is designed to handle 2.5 million gallons of wastewater per day, but is restricted by the state to cap treatment at 1.5 million per day—Town Engineer Michael Quinn and engineering consultants GHD of Cazenovia are recommending the town take a phased approach to reach its ultimate goal. 

Toward that end, Quinn told the board that based on a technical evaluation, six sub-areas of the sewer district were identified and prioritized as follows: Birch Street, with 340 parcels; Sparkle Lake, with 69 parcels; Sunrise Street, with 26 parcels; Ridge Street, with 175 parcels; Broadview, with 50 parcels; and Carolina Road, with 25 parcels.

However, with an average of 1.2 million gallons of wastewater being treated per day, the plant’s capacity for new hookups could accommodate only 300,000 gallons of the 450,000 gallons necessary to connect all parcels in this study area. Accordingly, Quinn said, the plant could handle the wastewater of only up to 450 of the 1,400 parcels in the district that are developed but unsewered.

Ray Schofield of GHD said the sewer system connecting the parcels would feature a mix of gravity-fed lines with low-pressure lines that may also be equipped with grinders, primarily due to the topography. In a low-pressure system, he said, sewers are equipped with individual pumps to pump wastewater from each home to a common sewer main and the force from all the pumps then pushes the wastewater in the sewer main to a gravity connection which then flows to the treatment plant.

At which point Councilman Vishnu Patel asked, “So, those who are new residents want to join it. They want to know much it costs, just roughly, you know?”

“That’s a loaded question,” Schofield replied. “I can give you a range.”

Should the pipe be extended to the right-of-way line and stop, he estimated, “Your connection cost per gravity line is anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000” per parcel, assuming no major plumbing rehabilitation has to be done in the home. The cost can rise, he said, based on distance to the pipe and other obstacles, such as retaining walls.

Should the parcel require grinder pumps, Schofield said, the connection cost would be $10,000 to $17,000. “It’s a touchy subject because they are very expensive.”

“And that is a cost the homeowner would pay to hook into the sewers?” Councilwoman Alice Roker asked.

“That’s up for the town to decide,” Schofield said.

“We can’t bond $30 million,” Gilbert said. “It’s just not feasible, so we have to come up with a number that we’re all comfortable with, that we can deal with…We have some very serious issues that we need to confront as a board.”

In response to a query from Roker, Quinn said that before the town can petition homeowners regarding their interest in a sewer hookup, “You need the numbers, and so I think in order to put some numbers together, we need an idea of a plan.”

Quinn noted the steps necessary to secure the $10 million in the town’s coffers, which will be given to the town before any work has begun.

Although repeatedly pressed to provide the board, as well as the some dozen or so homeowners eager to connect to the town’s sewer system who attended the meeting, with possible costs for ratepayers-in-waiting, no answers were forthcoming.

Speaking to the determination of homeowner costs, Schofield said such factors as the number of parcels that would be connected, the costs of a bond, if any, and current debt service would need to be considered. “Then you’ve got the $10 million,” he said.

“That’s the problem,” Roker said. “That will be a big consideration in terms of deciding who gets a portion of the $10 million and who will not get a portion of the $10 million.”

Quinn, however, also raised the possibility of securing other grants, as the town already is in the process of completing a final engineering report to help pave the way.

 “We might also be able to dip into somebody else’s $10 million, because we have concrete plans at this point,” said Councilman Tom Diana.

“We are in a better position than the other two communities that are still remaining with the funds out there, you’re correct, Tom,” Gilbert said.

At the end of the special meeting, Gilbert asked homeowners who were there to write their names, phone numbers and addresses on a sheet of paper located at the back of council chambers so town officials could be in contact with them on the progress of the initiative.

After a break and before continuing with other parts of the work session’s agenda, Gilbert also pointed out the need to stay within the state-mandated 1 percent tax cap. “It’s a factor we have to take into account in terms of how we move forward.”

Quinn followed by saying, “I think I still need a little bit more direction from the board.”

“You’ll get it, you’ll get it,” Gilbert said, noting that Councilman Ed Lachterman was absent and he, as well as the rest of the board, needed time to digest the information acquired at the meeting.

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