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Is a sewer system for Pine Plains feasible?

PINE PLAINS — The Community Room above the Pine Plains Free Library was filled on Monday, Nov. 15, as residents showed up to learn about the town’s long-awaited sewer feasibility study. The finalized plan was presented after Pine Plains received a $35,000 Municipal Innovation Grant (MIG) from Dutchess County for a central septic feasibility study in the summer of 2019.

MIG study

The grant allowed a consultant to be hired to evaluate whether creating a central sewer system would be feasible; the Town Board hired engineering firm Tighe & Bond in spring of 2020. This past July, the Town Board held a stakeholders meeting to address any concerns of those who might be impacted by the project.

On the evening of Nov. 15,  outgoing Town Board member Rory Chase spoke about the study and why it’s so important.

Tighe & Bond Senior Project Manager Erin Moore answered some questions and also bulleted the study’s importance. Moore highlighted the following: maintaining a healthy, vibrant community; improving quality of life; attracting new businesses and residents to town; and allowing businesses to operate at full capacity.

However, she told the public Pine Plains isn’t in a unique situation, as there are other small communities facing the same challenge, such as Amenia, Millerton and Copake.

In terms of why Pine Plains is scrambling to solve its wastewater problem now, Moore said there is no time like the present to approach the project. In terms of economics, there’s currently funding available for wastewater projects and municipalities should take advantage of it before it disappears.

Sewer in business district

Moore’s colleague, Kyle Kortright, said Tighe & Bond sent out a survey to determine who would benefit the most from the sewer district. The response showed the business district would.

Detailing the proposed sewer district delineation, Kortright said they therefore focused on the smallest parcels that could have issues with expanding their septic systems. He proposed delineating the sewer district around that hamlet and expanding to other parcels that have experienced septic issues and want to connect to the central sewer system.

Using water meter data to get the most accurate estimate for water flow, Kortright said they calculated 13,500 gallons per day for the proposed sewer district for an average day. Additionally, he said they considered future flow estimates, and in determining how much extra flow they need to prepare for, he said they calculated 20,000 gallons per day.

Town wants church land

For the septic system, Kortright proposed a septic tank effluent system that would be located on the 21-acre parcel in town owned by the Catholic Archdiocese and St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.

Town Supervisor Darrah Cloud reported on a later date the town is currently in negotiations with the Catholic Archdiocese. Essentially, Kortright said the system involves a series of partially-buried tanks where wastewater percolates over the media filter; once the wastewater is treated by the system, it goes to a subsurface disposal system.

Among the system’s advantages, he said it has low visual impact and is simple in terms of operation and maintenance.

Advantages of the proposed site include its proximity to the hamlet center, its fast percolation rate and its allowance for a gravity collection system, while its drawbacks included the site’s high seasonal groundwater and that the town has to negotiate with the church to buy the land.

Moore emphasized this was “a continuous communication process [since] nothing’s locked in at this stage.”

Costs, affordability

Outlining the project costs, the debt service costs and the costs of operation and maintenance, Moore said the project is still not affordable for the town.

To make it affordable, she highlighted a few funding strategies, adding that “this report is one of the tools we use to start funding.”

Another way of reducing project costs would be to recruit additional wastewater system customers, since more users would mean more people would help pay for the project.

Moore said getting in line for federal infrastructure funding would also help cut costs. She also said while there are several caveats to keep the project moving forward, she said the town is not obligated to continue pursuing it if it can’t afford it.

Enthusiasm, questions

Looking ahead, Moore said the next step really depends on the enthusiasm of the people in the hamlet who want to see the project realized.

Amid the audience’s questions, there were inquiries if Tighe & Bond looked at other parcels for installing the septic system; collection tanks; potential visual impacts and odor issues; cost concerns; and if the church is interested in selling the property.

Moore said the church expressed interest in the project, but she emphasized that the next step entails developing a plan that works in all parties' best interests. If the church does not want to sell its land, Moore said they have a backup plan, though the church property is the most desirable. Chase clarified the sewer district would pay for the property, not the town.

Video, more info

A video of the presentation can now be viewed in full on YouTube on the “Town of Pine Plains” channel. Look for more information on the cost breakdown of the proposed  project in future issues of this newspaper.

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