Capital Region lawmakers are hoping to launch a program similar to a popular road and bridge renovation program, but for water infrastructure.
The Safe Water Infrastructure Action Program (S.3292/A.3907) would create a companion program to the popular Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement, or CHIPS, program which provides assistance to municipalities to repair unsafe roads and bridges
The SWAP program would offer assistance to local governments for drinking water, sanitary sewer and storm water infrastructure. SWAP would require state funds equal to the existing CHIPs program to be available to local governments.
A recent report by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli pointed out that New York state’s aging water infrastructure will need about $40 billion in over the next two decades. The lawmakers sponsoring the bill also note that economic growth relies heavily on having updated and sound infrastructure in pace that can support added capacity. They say New York state will simply not be competitive unless we invest in our infrastructure to ensure it has the capacity for increased commercial growth and residential populations, much less handle its current capacity. New businesses will not invest in New York if they cannot depend on the infrastructure to serve them.
The SWAP program aims to renovate, rehabilitate, and replace existing local municipally owned and funded drinking water, storm water and sanitary sewer systems. The idea is that the initial investment in water infrastructure will yield a big long-term return by saving taxpayers money that would otherwise be spent on damage control when faulty water infrastructure related incidents occur.
“It would be funded at about the same level as the CHIPS program is being funded at,” said Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, the Senate sponsor of the bill. According to the New York State Department of Transportation, the 2016-2017 CHIPS budget is $438 million.
Phil Steck, D-Loudonville, sponsor of the Assembly SWAP bill, says the current system neglects disadvantages smaller municipalities. “One of the problems … is that if [a municipality does] a good job at trying to develop its infrastructure appropriately, they’re shut out of state aid,” Steck said. “We feel that a state standard formula like the one contained in this legislation, and the one done in CHIPS, is the right way to go.”
Tedisco, Steck and other lawmakers led a bipartisan news conference with other Capital Region officials where they discussed the urgent need for a program like their proposed SWAP program.
“At this time last year you could actually hop in a kayak and go down 5th Ave. because it was an actual creek,” said Troy City Council President, Carmella Mantello, who was referring to a rupture in one of the city’s 33-inch water mains in January 2016. The flooding and subsequent water shortage to surrounding towns caused a major interruption in business and other activities.
“When we were going over our fourth quarter financials our comptroller told us that during that period of time the streets were flooded, we lost over $100,000 because Troy couldn’t provide water to the town of Halfmoon and the town of Waterford,” Mantello said. The water shortage also caused some surrounding neighborhood schools to close.
The program would provide annual formula-based funding to all municipalities in the state to allow them to identify and swap out old, deteriorating pipes, water mains and gas lines to better maintain the state’s infrastructure. The legislation is a top priority for the Association of Towns for the State of New York and the New York Rural Water Association.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to put a new roof on a house if the foundation is completely rotting and that’s what we’ve been doing out there throughout this state,” said Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, R-Troy. “We repave a road it looks great, but then underneath there is 100-year-old pipes that are constantly breaking especially in the cold weather so it doesn’t make any sense; because than you got to tear up the roadway again and it ends up costing 3, 4, 5 times as much money as it should.”
Several municipalities have expressed support for SWAP and passed local resolutions including Saratoga County, Troy and the towns of Clifton Park, Ballston, Glenville, Halfmoon, Malta, East Greenbush and Corinth.
“There’s a monster lurking in New York state’s aging water and sewer infrastructure that could wreak havoc on millions of people if it’s not stopped,” Tedisco said. “Many of our towns and cities all over the state have underground infrastructure that’s over 100 years old with some as old as the Civil War. These trolls of the sublevel could collapse at any time putting the safety of our drinking water at risk and leaving overburdened local taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in costly repairs.
“We can’t duct tape our way out of this crisis with quick fix repairs,” he added. “Our Safe Water infrastructure Action Program will enable local governments to make repairs now and help them plan to replace our underground infrastructure in the future.”