New York is a “Home Rule” State. Therefore, in many areas there is a disjointed service structure whereby multiple municipalities are providing similar services in close proximity.
One such example was the Blasdell / Hamburg area in Erie County. The Village of Blasdell for decades owned, operated, and maintained its own wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), along with the associated sanitary sewers, pumping stations, and other system components. The Town of Hamburg had sewer districts that conveyed flows to the Village of Blasdell for treatment. The Town had other areas (not highlighted in red above) that had treatment handled by Erie County at the Southtowns Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant (AWTF).
The Southtowns AWTF is a much larger facility that was the result of regional planning performed in the 1970’s to eliminate numerous underperforming treatment plants in the area and provide a higher level of protection of Lake Erie. The Southtowns AWTF went “online” in 1980. Although provisions were made in the planning phase to allow for connection of the Blasdell system to the Southtowns system, the Village of Blasdell in the 1970’s decided to upgrade their own WWTP and keep its autonomy.
Problems with the previous service structure
Previously, the Town of Hamburg, Village of Blasdell, and the County of Erie were all performing services within a few miles of each other. Each had their own equipment, staff, and resources to operate and maintain these sewer systems. Furthermore, problems in individual systems were evaluated following municipal boundaries instead of investigating solutions that may be more regional in nature. In short, there was duplication of services that could lead to inefficiencies.
Additionally, both the Village of Blasdell and Town of Hamburg had overflows in their systems. Three (3) of these overflows are tributary to waterways that flow into the Woodlawn Beach State Park area.
Woodlawn Beach State Park
Woodlawn Beach State Park was opened in the 1990’s directly next to the Southtowns AWTF property. During its history, there have been beach closings due to water quality issues associated with bacteria.
A common misconception is that the beach closings are related to operations at the Southtowns AWTF.
The reality is that is not the case. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) completed a “Woodlawn Beach State Park Beach Sanitary Survey Report” the aforementioned overflows in the (January 2010; addendum March 2015) which identified several potential bacteria sources, including stormwater outfalls, urban runoff, contaminated stream drainage, algae / leafy debris, and the aforementioned overflows in the Village of Blasdell and Town of Hamburg.
Mergers of sewer services
Recognizing that there was a better way, the County of Erie, Town of Hamburg, and Village of Blasdell worked together to effectuate mergers of sanitary sewer services. The County took control of the Village and Town sanitary sewer systems in 2003 and 2007, respectively. Immediately after the merger with the Village, Erie County Sewer District No. 3 commenced efforts to identify regional solutions to eliminate the overflows and the Blasdell WWTP. The result was the Rush Creek Interceptor.
Rush Creek Interceptor project
The Rush Creek Interceptor project is an important component of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s “Initiatives for a Smart Economy” and is the result of coordination between Local, County, and State partners. This project is a significant investment that will benefit Erie County Sewer District No. 3 ratepayers and the environment (see: “Project Benefits”, below). The Rush Creek Interceptor specifically addresses one of the five potential Woodlawn Beach bacteria sources identified in the January 2010 NYSOPRHP study. As a result, this project should positively impact beach water quality.
The Rush Creek Interceptor initiative consists of two (2) phases:
1. Upgrades to the Southtowns AWTF to improve influent pumping and peak flow management so that additional flows may be handled at the facility. Construction commenced in 2014 and is expected to be completed in Spring 2016.
2. Construction of a new interceptor sewer and force main to convey flows from the area tributary to the Blasdell Wastewater Treatment Plant to the Southtowns AWTF. Notice to Proceed for this work was effective July 30, 2015 and the project is expected to be complete by the end of 2016.
The Rush Creek Interceptor will:
- Eliminate three (3) existing overflows that Erie County Sewer District No. 3 took over from other municipalities in the 2000’s. This will reduce pollutants, including bacteria, entering local waterways.
- Eliminate the Blasdell Wastewater Treatment Plant and three (3) pumping stations – all of which are aging facilities that would require future upgrades.
- Eliminate electrical loads from the pumping stations and the Blasdell Wastewater Treatment Plant. This will reduce the carbon footprint of providing sewer services in the corridor.
- Eliminate duplication of services.
The total cost of the construction work is approximately $16 million. A $5 million grant was awarded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for the project through their “Water Quality Improvement Project” program. The remaining funding will be through both capital reserves and low interest loans provided by the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation. Capital reserve funding and payment of the principle and interest for the long-term financing will be by Erie County Sewer District No. 3.