by Tom Ellis
ALBANY, NY: Dan Van Riper spoke about the proposed Lincoln Park sewage treatment facility at the May 16 SPB dinner. His wife, Lynne Jackson, introduced him saying Dan has studied the sewage issue for more than ten years and written about it extensively on his blog
Dan began saying, “This is a really complex issue and if you don’t understand it, I don’ blame you.” He said the city wants the treatment plant in the ravine along the northwest edge of the park, near both the TOAST and Hackett public school buildings. He showed post cards from 100 years ago of that section of the park that were unrecognizable from how the park looks today. The ravine is no longer a tourist attraction.
The treatment plant, he said, would occupy and cover one-half of the two-acre ravine where the Beaver Kill River is now buried in underground pipes. The river drained seventy percent of the city’s watershed. The once beautiful waterfall in the ravine was later, after the city grew, named Buttermilk Falls, due to the color of the sewage that flowed over it. The open sewer was eventually buried underground.
The treatment facility would be three stories high with one above and two under ground, take three years to build, and an entrance from Martin Luther King Drive would be built into it. The new facility would screen out solids from the sewer that flows into the Hudson River.
Dan said the Beaver Kill flows underground in a five-feet-diameter pipe beneath Elberon Place (just west of Washington Park), is day-lighted (on the surface) in the Washington Park Lake, veers under New Scotland Avenue, turns toward Hackett school, and then into Lincoln Park, downhill through Lincoln Park, under Arch Street, until it empties into the Hudson River at the U-Haul building.
Dan explained that sewage flows through the Beaver Kill when combined sewer overflows (CSO) co-mingle the usually separate sewer and storm drains during heavy rains, because the storm sewers cannot handle the huge storm volume,
He said an aeration device sits on the ground in the ravine (he showed a photo) allowing sewer gas to escape from the sewers. The aeration device also serves as a sewage water overflow during heavy rains. Dan said sewer gas (hydrogen sulfide) is a “full spectrum poison,” meaning it can kill people if eaten or inhaled, and can also explode.
Dan said some poor Albany residents eat Hudson River fish even when caught during and after heavy rains when human poop is clearly visible in the river water. He said the city of Albany has a DEC-issued SPDES (State Pollution Discharge Elimination Permit) for its Big C Pipe that drains into the river at the edge of the U-Haul parking lot.
Dan said six local Hudson River communities (Albany, Rensselaer, Troy, Cohoes, Watervliet, Green Island) are supposed to fix the CSO problem, and planned to do so until they found out about the biggest component of it: Albany’s Big C Pipe, that former Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings (1994-2013) had hidden information about for many years. Dan said the Beaver Kill is the largest CSO in the upper Hudson River.
Using a PowerPoint, Dan showed photos and discussed two big recent street cave-ins in Albany, one at Madison Avenue and New Scotland Avenue, the other in 2016 at South Lake and Elberon Place, that Dan said was especially dangerous because a major water-main broke over a major natural gas line.
Dan said a 1994 cave-in in the Lincoln Park ravine terrified and nearly swallowed a man who was walking atop it, the cave-in was never repaired and, simultaneous with the cave-in, sewage appeared in Washington Park Lake..
He displayed a Greenpeace graphic displaying levels of Fecal Coliform bacteria (human feces) dissolved in the Hudson River and said the NYS maximum limit is 100 parts per million (ppm). In the last five years, Albany has made an intense effort to divert water from the Beaver Kill , and with some positive results. He said the city faces a January 2022 consent order to solve this problem. The city believes it must act quickly to solve the Fecal Coliform matter but what it is proposing with the Lincoln Park sewage treatment facility is only a temporary solution.
He said the city pretended to seriously consider a completely unworkable alternative site for the proposed facility on the U-Haul property without asking U-Haul, and then selected the Lincoln Park site.
Dan said a better and correct solution would be to build a new sewer line, enlarge the South Street sewage treatment plant, and little by little (gradually, over many years) separate sewer and storm lines.
Dan was extremely critical of former Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, who, he said, ignored the CSO problem for the twenty years he was mayor.
Dan said among the problems the city faces with the Lincoln Park proposal is that the city cannot simply alienate (confiscate) park land. He believes doing so requires the approval of both the state legislature and the governor, a process that may take a few years, if done at all. Confiscating park land would be very controversial. The city would not be able to get away with it the way Albany Mayor Erastus Corning did in the 1950’s when he took part of Lincoln Park to site the TOAST school.
Dan said that although he views the sewage treatment proposal as a social justice issue, there is little opposition to the project among the neighborhood associations or among city residents.
During the questions and comments, he said the city has tried to run this project quickly through the regulatory process and by the public, and the city’s share of the cost for the entire project including a diversion pipe and other amenities would be $45 million. He said something has to be done about the CSO problem, the city would not attempt to do build the facility in Washington Park with its more wealthy neighbors, we do not have organized opposition, it is difficult to articulate an alternative plan of action, but he insisted, what the city is proposing is only a temporary solution.
Dan said a new water pipe must be installed in Lincoln Park, it will be eight feet in diameter, and the city claims that eighty-five percent of the solids now going into the river will be captured with the new sewage facility.
Russel Ziemba urged the public to demand that the Beaver Kill be brought above ground again if and after the sewer and storm pipes are separated.
Dan said the city still has no plan for separating sewer and storm lines long term, but, despite this, continues to approve new dense construction projects within the city such as the Albany Medical Center Hospital and Park South redevelopment, that will intensify the CSO problem.
Published in June-July 2018 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter