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July 29, 2018
Massive Albany, Troy sewage spills in Hudson violated state reporting law
By Brian Nearing, Hearst-owned Albany Times Union, Friday, July 7, 2017
ALBANY — People who swam or boated in the Hudson River during the last two weeks may been been exposed to unsafe level of municipal sewage after massive spills from from the cities of Albany and Troy.
Some of the spills were caused by last weekend's torrential rains, and both cities apparently violated state law by not reporting the spills for days to either the state Department of Environmental Conservation or the general public.
Both cities admitted the problem late Friday and blamed it on worker vacations where responsibility for reporting was not properly reassigned.
According to a notice filed with DEC late Friday by Albany, a series of 10 separate spills totaling four million gallons of sewage -- called combined sewer overflows -- went into the river from a massive sewer system pipe just north of the Port of Albany.
The spills started the evening of June 23, and continued on June 24, June 26, and June 27; that accounted for about half of the total spill amount.
When the region was hit by torrential rains on June 30 and July 1, the city had more spills on both of those days, and which continued July 2. That account accounted for the remaining spills.
Known as "Big C," the city pipe handles sewage for about three quarters of the city of Albany, or about 77,000 residents, plus thousands of workers who commute in each day.
Under the state Sewage Right to Know Law, adopted in 2013, sewer system operators have to report spills to DEC within two hours, and to the general public within four hours, so people know when being in contact with river water could pose a health risk. Albany filed its notice with DEC at 2:55 p.m. Friday.
DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald said Friday that the state "reserves the right to pursue actions against municipalities for failure to comply with incident reporting requirements. As a result of recent wet weather with limited discharge reporting, DEC will continue to investigate the potential for unreported combined sewer overflows."
She said the maximum penalty for violating the law is up to $37,500 a day.
Joe Coffey, city commissioner for water and water supply, blamed the reporting failure on "human error ... our foreman was off and the hand-off for reporting did not get made properly."
Coffey said the city has "already fixed" its procedure so the reporting failure should not happen again.
A spokesman for Troy Mayor Patrick Madden blamed that city's failure to report the spill on a shortage of sewer workers over the Fourth of July holiday week.
"There was an oversight ... and we are working on resolving it so it does not happen again," said Madden spokesman John Salka.
Salka said the spills stemmed from the heavy rains on June 30 and July 1, but he could not provide any details as to dates, times and amounts of the spills.
On Friday evening, the city had not yet filed its sewage spill notice with DEC.
During the holiday week, people would not have known about the health risk. In the city of Rensselaer, south of Troy on the river, for example, many people gathered along the river Tuesday night to watch the holiday fireworks in Albany.
Albany and Troy both have what is called combined sewer systems, where both sanitary sewers and stormwater sewers share the same piping system. Such systems are designed to protect treatment plants from being overwhelmed by heavy rains by having untreated sewage bypass the plant and spill directly into the Hudson.
In 2014, the DEC and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a $136 million, 15-year plan to reduce the amount of combined sewer overflows. The plan covers Albany, Troy, Cohoes, Watervliet, Rensselaer and Green Island, which have about 150,000 homes and businesses.