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$38.5 million coming to area for water and sewer repairs

By By DAVE DELLECESE

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Surrounded by the names of every city, town and village in Oneida County, which rest along the perimeter of the County Legislative Chambers, state and local officials gathered Friday to announce $38.5 million in federal funding towards long-needed repairs of water and sewer infrastructure throughout the County, as well as the City of Utica.

The City of Utica and Oneida County will each receive $4 million in grants, along with a combined $30.5 million in low-interest federal loans to go towards ongoing sewer infrastructure projects throughout their area. The funding for Oneida County will finance the first two phases of sewer and water upgrades that include the Sauquoit Pumping Station, as well as numerous other repairs needed throughout the county's infrastructure.

The money, secured by Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Michael Arcuri, will also allow the City of Utica to move forward with the first four phases of their own infrastructure work and repairs in their sewer and water systems.

"The City of Utica sewer issue demands perpetual planning, research, and cooperation because we can't keep passing this burden off on future taxpayers," said Utica Mayor David Roefaro. "like funding opportunities, this project lays out phases we must complete and build on."

The cost to start these repairs is estimated at roughly $13 million for the City of Utica and $25 million for Oneida County.

New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation President and CEO Matthew Driscoll - former Mayor Of Syracuse - said that a cost for the full project can not be generated until the initial work is done, as those repairs and renovations made at the start of the project can have a big impact, bringing down the cost of future phases.

That means that while the costs of the total work needed to be done in the city could reach as high as $164.6 million and $183.5 million for the county when all is said and done right now, those numbers could go down based on the work that is done in these early phases.

With that in mind, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said that they will look at the most crucial elements of the infrastructure, and address those first.

"We try to look at the most in need, immediately, in terms of what the engineering reports come back and what will alleviate part of the problem as you go forward," Picente said.

In February 2007, Oneida County was ordered by New York Sate to immediately fix its sewer systems because particularly wet weather causes the system to overflow and discharge untreated sewage into the Mohawk River. In order to avoid fines, the Oneida County Sewer District entered into a consent order with the New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) to improve its system by 2014.

Meanwhile, the City of Utica has a combined sewer designed to collect domestic sanitary sewage, industrial wastes, infiltration from groundwater, and stormwater runoff in a single system of pipes. Combined sewer overflow (CSO) permits can be issued by the DEC, allowing an approved dumping strategy for CSO events, but Utica is still discharging in excess of the permitted amount. While the city has entered into a consent order with the DEC to avoid fines while correcting the problem, they are working to separate its storm-water and sanitary sewer systems.

Picente said that Oneida County will submit its application to the Department of Conservation (DEC) on July 11, and once approved, work on the county's water and sewage projects will begin.

City of Utica Spokesman Angelo Roefaro said that while the city does not have a definitive timeline for their projects, they want to start work immediately.

The environment and health of the populace wasn't the only benefit that was expected to be seen. Officials at Friday's announcement said the changes will not only provide cleaner water to the areas it serves, but open the door to businesses and jobs that have otherwise been unable to come to the area due to unfit water and sewage.

"This is about jobs, this is about federal dollars," said Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito. "Federal infrastructure money coming to our community to not only create jobs, but could help us build new homes, be able to build new homes, and provide a true infrastructure investment in this community."

That investment, Picente said, would be expected to clean up not only the sewer, but also the wallets of the taxpayers, saying the funding will reduce the county's borrowing costs, and extend their terms of borrowing. That, he said, would pass along savings onto the taxpayer while still keeping the county's bond rating strong.

"This investment now is not only going to help the taxpayers because it's federal dollars - it doesn't go on the to the property taxes, it won't be ratepayers paying for it - It will be an investment in our future," said Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito. "And it's not only future economic development, but retention of business that may absolutely want to grow."

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