UTICA, N. Y. -The Oneida County Board of Legislators approved to keep funding fixes to the county's sewer district on Wednesday.
The decision did not require much debate, as the county is under a consent order from the state's Department of Environmental Conservation to fix the sewer infrastructure.
The consent order was handed down in 2007, and Oneida County officials estimated the project would cost between $60 million and $80 million dollars to fix. As the repairs continue, officials now believe the system will cost, in total, $277 million dollars to fully repair.
The repairs must be complete by 2020, and because no financial help is tied to the state's consent order, county officials have no choice but to raise sewer rates for district customers.
"We need to have this cost increase on the residents," Emil Paparella, the legislator for District 23 said. "It's going to be a burden, but unfortunately because of the consent order, it has to be done. Any excess water now we can't run through the sewer plant. We have to open the valves and let it flow right into the canal."
The excess of clean water is overwhelming the county's treatment plants, making it difficult to separate sewage from usable water.
County officials are reaching out to elected representatives in Albany for help with the growing costs pf repair.
"In terms of the consent order, there's no saying 'Well, it's too much money, we can't fix it,'" Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said. "Whatever it is, we have to fix it. It's things that we bond for or borrow for, we seek state and federal assistance on, and so the minimal amount of cost will be passed on to our rate payers."
If the county cannot secure additional financial help for the project, sewer rates are expected to rise to $160 per year.
The Oneida County sewer district covers 15 municipalities including Utica, Whitesboro and Oriskany.