The Whitehall village board reversed a decision on Friday in order to be in a better position to get federal money.
At the March 2 regular meeting of the board of trustees, members voted 4-1 to send out Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for a comprehensive engineering study of the Whitehall wastewater system, with several stating that while they would rather spend the money on an actual project then in an engineering survey, the move had to be made in order to appease the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
However, the board held a special meeting on Friday to discuss whether or not they could wait any longer to start the project with the recent announcement stimulus aid that would be coming to the region.
“We called this meeting to revisit the issue of the RFP,” said village mayor Patricia Norton. “With the spring thaw rapidly approaching, we might be able to accumulate more funding by having an engineer on board right now.”
“There is a bout $60 million that is coming New York’s way for the Clean Water Program,” said village attorney and New York State Assemblyman Tony Jordan. “This funding is for the purpose of making dirty water clean, which a wastewater system would definitely fall under.”
Jordan said that the influx in state funding was controlled by the Environmental Facility Corporation (EFC) and represented a rather large increase in the organizations ability to support projects like Whitehall’s.
“This represents and eight-fold increase of money to them,” said Jordan. “This money is controlled and distributed by the EFC, with up to 50-percent administered in grants and some in negative interest loans. The way I see that is, you borrow $10 and you give back $8.”
Jordan said that based on the EFC’s criteria for eligibility, Whitehall scores really high in the main categories for funding, which is right now scheduled to be applied for by Aug. 1.
However, Jordan said that there have been rumblings that with the influx of federal dollars, the application deadline could be moved up.
“We don’t know for sure, but it could be moved up,” said Jordan. “Then, the key would be that one month loss in real time which could not be cataclysmic, but could be if the federal funding was available sooner.”
Currently, the village has been working with the Cutting Edge and Engineering Design Partners to look at the wastewater system and figure out a plan of attack.
“I don’t have a problem with Cutting Edge or EDP,” said trustee Kenneth Bartholomew. “What I have a problem with is one bid. I’m not calling them crooks, but I have raised concerns over this before. How do I know this is the best price we can get.”
EDP submitted a proposal for an engineering project that would have a budget of $160,000 to complete a comprehensive study of the wastewater system.
“We would have to coordinate with sub-contractors and focus their work, collect data, analyze the data and figure out what we do next,” said Travis Mitchell of EDP. “We can sit here today and say that none of the moves that the DEC wants make sense, but you have to prove to the DEC that it does not make sense.”
“It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove,” added Jordan.
Mitchell said that it would, on average, take three months of collection before, “you get to the meat of a report,” which would make things tight if a deadline for funding applications was moved up to June or July.
Trustee Walt Sandford asked of there was a set amount of time that the village would save if they were to forgo the RFP process.
“It depends on who wins the bid and how long it takes them to get familiar with the system,” said Tom Davey of Cutting Edge.
“We would love to continue to work with you on this,” said Mitchell. “I personally find this project interesting.”
Norton said that she felt the village needed to be as prepared as they could be to receive federal funding whenever it became available.
“The DEC is going to ask for television, flow monitoring, studies, reports, whatever,” she said. “It is all going to be the same.”
“I don’t think that we have a choice,” said trustee Richard Colomb. “We should jump on this. Otherwise, it sounds like we won’t meet the deadline.”
“If anything, we need the money,” said Norton. “We need to help out the people of this community.”
The board then acted to withdraw the motion requesting RFPs for the project by a 4-1 vote, followed by accepting a motion to hire EDP to work on a evaluation and engineering plan by a vote of 4-0, with Bartholomew abstaining.
“I am not voting against these guys,” said Bartholomew. “I would do anything to keep these guys here. I just don’t like a one number deal.”
Mitchell said that the process of completing a report was already underway.
“We have started to put together the maps of the system,” he said. “The critical thing now is access to the manholes. One thing that the village could do themselves is have the village crew go out and check them off and then we can mark them off on the maps. We need to know for sure where they are for accessibility.”
Davey said that he had also had talks with the DEC and that they were also concerned about the private laterals that feed the wastewater system.
“We have talked to the DEC and they have said that all of the laterals in the village of Whitehall will need to be replaced at some point,” said Davey, who oversaw lateral replacement in the village last summer.
“The reality is that we have a situation that we have to deal with,” said Jordan. “It happens to be the perfect storm.”
Earlier, Jordan said that the village really had two options remaining to them.
“The first is to work with Cutting Edge to begin a hands-on approach to fix and find out what the problem is, submit an engineering report that has a picture that is a lot clearer thanks to Cutting Edge and have a staged completion of the project,” said Jordan. “Unfortunately, the state controls what and how we can take care of the problem.
“The second is to ignore the state and proceed down a path with Cutting Edge,” Jordan added. “The state will pursue you more aggressively if you do that, because that is what they have indicated they will do.”