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Lzansing Sewer

It is pretty certain that no new natural gas capacity will be allowed in the Town and Village of Lansing.  And according to Village of Lansing Mayor Donald Hartill the DEC (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) will not allow any new sewage treatment plants on Cayuga Lake, or major expansions to the ones that service the Lansings.  In a town that is ripe for development those can be major impediments.  Developers are looking to heat pumps to compensate for the absence of natural gas, although one major town development -- the 72 unit Milton Meadows project on the town center land -- is struggling to get enough electricity delivered to actually power its heat pumps.  For sewer, the only way in the foreseeable future to increase capacity is to better manage Inflow and Infiltration (I&I) -- or to put it simply, get rid of the leaks.

"There is an upper limit to what you can put into the system," Hartill said at Monday's Trustees meeting.  "It will be monitored by meters that are more or less reliable.  We'll probably do a fair amount of monitoring, including televised monitoring in our system to find places where tree roots have punctured through and things like that."

There are two sewage treatment plants in Tompkins County: the Cayuga Heights Wastewater Treatment Plant which services the Villages of Cayuga Heights and Lansing, and the Town of Lansing, which currently has two sewer districts on Cherry and Warren Roads.  A bypass connects the two for instances when the smaller Cayuga Heights plant receives more than its capacity of effluent so the excess can be passed to the Ithaca plant.  Town sewage must flow through the Village of Lansing system to reach the treatment plant in Cayuga Heights.  The Town pays both villages for those services, and the Village of Lansing pays Cayuga Heights for the treatment.

Both plants far exceeded their capacities in a recent rain event, which has put a spotlight, especially on the Cayuga Heights plant, which needs millions of dollars of upgrades and is under additional DEC scrutiny because of capacity overages in the past year.

"That plant has been on deferred maintenance for so long because of the contractor that was doing it, that there is several million dollars worth of repairs and improvements that have to be done," Hartill said. "They now have what I would characterize as a competent engineer looking at the problem.  They have identified some problems in the headworks (the first stage in sewer treatment) and found some used headworks that are being installed.  They're doing the right thing -- it's about ten years too late."

The Town portion of the new sewer will cost $130,000 to be paid by the property owners within the new sewer district -- taxpayers not in the sewer district will not pay anything.  It will also add new sewer to a portion of the Village of Lansing along and near Cayuga Heights Road, which developers of the two large projects in the Town are contributing about a third of the cost of.  Village taxpayers are impacted, because, unlike the Town which has distinct sewer districts, the Village is, more or less, one big sewer district.

Presumably developers will want to build in the Lansings beyond the next ten years.  With the ban on natural gas the only way for new projects to get it is for existing users to switch to something else.  NYSEG is encouraging people to move from natural gas to electrically powered heat pumps, the theory being that it will free enough of the existing capacity for new projects that really need it for specific purposes.  Now the limitation on sewer treatment capacity presents a similar challenge.  Hartill said the only way to gain sewer treatment capacity is to remedy I&I.  Take the non-sewage out of the sewer and use that reclaimed capacity for new developments.

"The lake is a precious resource so one has to be careful," he said. "The DEC has been very blunt that there will be no more sewage treatment plants installed on Cayuga Lake, period.  The idea of putting in another sewage treatment plant to service the Lansings isn't going to happen, so our only path forward is to deal with I&I."

Hartill noted that a one inch hole in the sewer leaks ten gallons per minute.  Finding and fixing sewer leaks is expensive.  The first line of defense is to monitor the flow via one of four meters the Village maintains (and a new meter the Town will install at the Town/Village border to keep track of the new sewer's flow).  He said that Village of Lansing Superintendent of Public Works John Courtney has already found and fixed some sewer leaks, but a costly process that involves sending video cameras through the pipes will mean more cost for Village sewer users.

"John sends me the data once a month," Hartill said. "You can see when it rained.  We found a few fairly large flows."

Leaks are one piece of the I&I problem.  The other side is illegal diversion of stormwater into the wastewater system, often inside homes that connect sump pumps to the sewer system instead of a stormwater system, which may or may not even exist for older homes.  Short of getting a warrant to enter homes to inspect these systems, an extreme local governments have not been willing to go to, it is difficult to force compliance.  Hartill says that any new building or building permits for modifications of existing structures may have a condition attached that requires sewer and stormwater system inspections, but that falls far short of a systematic mitigation of the problem.

Hartill says there are 30,000 gallons per day available, which should serve the Village's and Town's needs for new sewer service for the next decade.   Hartill says that managing I&I has become key to reclaiming sewer capacity from the proliferation of non-sewage use of the sewers, which may extend that time period.  But it is uncertain how much capacity can be reclaimed, and how much more time that will buy the Lansings. Reclamation of capacity is not a one for one proposition, which makes it even more difficult for the municipalities to continue sewering new projects.

"The currency is that you have to fix three times the amount of I&I in order to get one unit," he said. "The reason is that's the kind of exceedance that we have."

Managing I&I will be much easier for the Town because its sewer will be brand new, including new materials that are more resistant to roots breaking into the pipes.  The Village has a couple of projects to upgrade its much older system this year, and will need to use the video monitoring system among other methods of detecting leaks.

Much of the Village has sewer service, but bringing new sewer to the Town will be difficult.  Multiple projects over two decades failed because of the high cost and the problem of treating town sewage.  The last project included a standalone sewage treatment plant that would have solved the capacity limitation for Town projects, but that does not appear to even be a possibility any more because the prospect of obtaining obtaining DEC approval is so bleak.  Milton Meadows originally hoped to build a package plant -- a small, standalone sewage treatment plant -- but the cost of building and maintaining such a facility led them to explore shared septic.

And all of the the Village is certainly not hooked up to sewer.  If, as seems eventually inevitable, Sundowns Farm is  developed a large number of gallons per day will be required.

The Village Board of Trustees set a public hearing Monday for a new law that will raise sewer rents and collect additional money for maintenance and repair of the aging system, and Hartill warned Monday that more sewer rent increases will likely be charged in the foreseeable future.  The hearing is scheduled for June 18th at 7:35 at the Village of Lansing hall.

"We have enough for the projected growth, probably for the next decade by taking care of our I&I and being careful," Hartill said. "There's going to be this proposal that's funding fully a third of the cost of installing the sewer line from the north end of the Village to the Cayuga Heights plant."

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