This Tuesday, Central Bridge again voted down a plan to increase spending for a proposed municipal sewer system. The small hamlet, with an estimated population of 1,288, has been involved in a long-running debate over how to deal with a number of failing septic systems. The projects’ nearly six million dollar price tag would largely be paid for by grants (approx. 60 percent). However, voters have remained unwilling to vote in support of putting up the remaining balance. According to officials involved in the proposed sewer district, this recent “no” vote puts the entire project, including the grants in jeopardy.
From both an environmental perspective and an economic perspective it would seem to make sense to create the sewer system. In the long-run, all of Central Bridge and its surrounding area would benefit. Environmentally, failing septic systems pose numerous actual and potential threats to neighbors and groundwater supplies. Increased levels of human waste run off from a malfunctioning septic drainage field can enter groundwater supplies and contaminate local streams and watersheds. While Central Bridge is served by a municipal water system, septic systems can still contaminate the well water of neighboring communities not served by the hamlet’s reservoir. Taken individually, the impact of a failing system may be marginal. But cumulatively, the threat can become substantial.
Even still, a failing drainage field can pose threats beyond groundwater contamination. A failing system with a weeping drainage field can cause foul odors to spread to nearby neighbors.
Economically, creating a municipal system allows for the costs of dealing with sewage waste to be distributed evenly across the community. Individually, repairing a malfunctioning system can costs anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000! Not only would I rather pay 500 or 600 a year than $5,000 (at least!), but I’d rather pay the smaller amount to avoid having to endure the negative impacts of a neighbor’s failing system should they be unable to afford to fix it. Plus, if your system is failing, quick-fixes will only work for a while and you can’t sell your property until the problem is solved.
Maybe the wealthier residents can afford to lay out such sums of money to finance their own septic systems, but for people on fixed incomes, a $20,000 repair bill could potentially be devastating, while a tax, fee or rate of $500 or $600 would be a small price to pay (relatively speaking) to prevent such an event. There’s also the potential that with future development in the area, the sewer district could be expanded, potentially decreasing the costs.
Critics worry that in the future, costs may spiral out of control and there may be less invasive ways of dealing with a small amount of failing septic systems. This may be so, but septic systems that are currently failing, are not the only reason the sewer system should be built. What about the future of Central Bridge’s downtown? The Downtown area has a lot of problems, including vacant and deteriorating buildings. Currently, what are the waste removal practices in existence in Downtown Central Bridge? Surely a municipal sewer system would relieve a substantial portion of the costs of rehabbing those buildings and bringing life back into the Downtown.
In the past, residents have voted both in favor and against, so there is large degree of vacillation on this issue, with people seemingly unable to make up their mind. Of course the issue is complicated by the fact that the hamlet of Central Bridge straddles the boundary lines between the Towns of Schoharie and Esperance, with residents of each town having to vote separately. Perhaps somewhere down the road, residents of the hamlet should investigate incorporation as a city. Incorporating as a village would not really solve the problem of crossing municipal boundary lines, but becoming a “city” would make Central Bridge a separate corporate entity from the towns. This might be beneficial and it might not, but it would be interesting to look into.