In the News  Archive

Will bad bank billions help fix local leaky water, sewer systems?

Times Union
December 8, 2015

By Brian Nearing

With the state flush with extra billions from bank misconduct settlements, a big chunk of that money should help local governments make costly repairs to aging, leaking drinking water and sewer systems, advocates at the state Capitol said Tuesday.

"We recognize that local governments have some responsibility, but we cannot do this alone," said Richard Lyons, a former director of the Albany County Sewer District and past president of the New York Water Environment Association, which represents professionals who run those systems.

Accordingly, a coalition of environmental groups, local government leaders and construction trades urged that Gov. Andrew Cuomo devote $800 million from multibillion-dollar bank settlements toward the repairs to help financially stretched local governments and the 9,500 systems which are projected by the state to need more than $60 billion in repairs during the next two decades.

Currently, the state has about $2 billion from settlements with misbehaving banks that has not been applied to a specific use in the state budget, according to figures from the state Budget Office. The coalition wants $800 million of that earmarked in next year's budget to help local governments pay for long-overdue, costly repairs.

For example, the Adirondack town of Ticonderoga, at the north end of Lake George, faces about a $15 million bill to fix its water and sewer systems, said John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council. That works out to about $3,000 from every man, woman and child in town. "It's not realistic to expect that they can cover this themselves," said Sheehan.

The bills for such work statewide are equally daunting. According to recent figures from the state Environmental Facilities Corp., which runs low-interest loan programs for both drinking water and sewer systems, local governments requested more than $10 billion for repairs needed immediately. The two programs combined have about $1 billion available to loan, meaning it has to be repaid.

"Infrastructure is essential to both a community's economic growth and improved quality of life," said Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors. With the state's tax cap limiting how much communities can raise, "it is essential that the state dedicate significant funding to local water and wastewater infrastructure."

Currently in the four-county Capital Region, there are about four dozen drinking water projects requiring about $121 million.

To help local governments foot such bills, the federal government has provided about $17 billion to states over the past two decades under the Clean Water Act, according to Associated Press figures. States then add millions more to create revolving loan funds that help localities finance costly drinking water system upgrades.

Since the state Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund program started, New York has gotten about $1.1 billion in federal aid, and added another $250 million of its own, according to EFC. During the last two decades, that program has supported about $4.5 billion in work, according to EFC figures.

"Every day we wait, it will cost more," said William Cook, of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

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