B y Dan King
Federal regulators are none too pleased with the current state of the sewer system in the village of Whitehall and have not been for the past few years. The village is attempting to address the issue and last Tuesday, a public hearing was held to disclose intentions to seek out more grant money to make the necessary upgrades.
The group responsible for spearheading this community development project is a Queensbury group called Shelter Planning and Development, the same company that was brought in by the town board to seek grant money to renovate the recreation center back in February. Due to a lack of support, those grants were never pursued.
“The current grant we are seeking for the village of Whitehall is a $600,000 grant.” Bob Murray, the company’s president said, “It is federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) money given to New York State to help towns and villages with public infrastructure.”
If the village is able to obtain this grant, which they were denied for a year ago, it will be incredibly beneficial, officials said. After already receiving a $2 million grant through congressional lobbying at the federal level, they would be able to get phase one of this project underway.
“The overall estimate for this process was $24 million, which was then broken down into three phases, at $8 million per phase,” Murray added, “That was unrealistic, so it is now broken down into smaller phases, the first one being $2.7 million.”
The original plan to fund the first phase was to use a $2 million federal grant and a $740,000 federal loan. If this new grant gets approved, then the village could save substantial money.
Murray said, “This $600,000 would fund a small chunk of phase one and hopefully get this phase done without any additional, substantial loan debt.”
Much of the sewer overflow that takes place ends up in the Champlain Canal and in some instances makes its way to Lake Champlain as well. The fact that this pollution reaches federally-owned water in Lake Champlain could explain the involvement of the Federal Government in an issue that pertains to a small town in upstate New York.
Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh summed up the need for renovations when he said, “Safe, reliable sanitation is a basic need for every community. The current system in Whitehall has proven to be insufficient.”
Mayor Peter Telisky had alluded to the necessity of federal grants at a previous meeting, when he stated “Some of these grant applications we seek total $4 million.”
Last week’s meeting follows in the wake of lobbying from Democratic Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer back in April, pushing for federal funding for the village’s sewer renovations.
The lobbying from Gillibrand and Schumer was successful enough to get the village a grant for $2 million from the federal government as a part of the 2014 “Farm Bill,” as well as a “low interest loan” amounting to $740,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The money obtained from that lobbying will be sufficient enough to cover the expenses for the first phase of the proposed solution; however this is a multi-phase process.
As Murray mentioned, the catch-22 of the $740,000 loan is that it essentially delays the inevitable fact that eventually the village will have to foot the bill for at least part of this project. However, if the new grant application gets approved the village will have a much smaller burden to fund.
Gillibrand, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee said, “Not only will this funding help maintain sanitary conditions, but it will ensure that necessary infrastructure is in place for the area’s economic development initiatives that drive the local economy.”
Schumer sympathized with taxpayers in Whitehall when he stated his motives for lobbying, “This federal funding will take a tremendous financial burden off of the Village and allow Whitehall to begin construction right away on a project that is vital to its long-term prosperity.”
Mayor Telisky gave credit to Gillibrand, Schumer and Owens for allowing the project to at least get started.
Telisky said of the congressional lobbying, “If it were not for the concern and support of our representatives in the Senate and Congress this work would have never been able to happen.”
B y Dan King