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Engineer to aid stormwater fix in Rotterdam after EPA audit

Move may help town avoid fines

Sunday, September 22, 2013
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— Rotterdam has hired an engineering company to help sort through the town’s mess of a stormwater management program after a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report last month cited numerous discrepancies.

Members of the Town Board hired John McDonald Engineering at a cost of $53,470 last week. The company should help the town avoid potential fines from the EPA that could have been forthcoming absent immediate corrective action.

“The fines that could be assigned to us are onerous if we weren’t to do this,” Supervisor Harry Buffardi said.

Last month, the EPA issued a 30-page report listing 18 “areas of concerns and recommendations” the town needed to address. Though some of these items were minor, such as keeping track of printed pamphlets about the stormwater management program and correcting simple record-keeping errors, others involve areas that require more immediate action to satisfy federal regulations.

For instance, numerous stormwater drains and catch basins are unmapped. And while years of annual reports suggested town workers were cleaning these areas regularly, more recent documentation suggests only a fraction were being addressed properly.

Leaves in drains

The report listed numerous drains that were filled with leaves or debris. Outfall pipes were found in areas leading to area tributaries from drains that could potentially collect oil or other contaminants.

When the EPA conducted its audit in April, at least three unmapped outfalls were identified, including one at the town’s water and sewage treatment plant. Town officials also couldn’t produce any documentation identifying any of the outfalls screened between 2010 and 2012, even though annual reports submitted to the EPA suggest the town inspected dozens of them annually.

The report also suggests the town has been lax in ensuring developers are properly following stormwater regulations. The audit found three construction sites that weren’t in compliance with regulations but that hadn’t been cited by the town.

Mary Mears, a spokeswoman for the EPA, said the report is intended as a guideline for the town to take corrective action and that it doesn’t necessarily mean Rotterdam will face fines.

She said the town hiring an engineer to sort through its deficiencies is an encouraging development,

“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said.

Rotterdam’s stormwater management program was overseen by former Department of Public Works coordinator Michael Griesemer. Buffardi didn’t expressly blame the program’s shortcomings on Griesemer and doubted that it ever functioned properly.

“It was probably never created properly to begin with,” he said.

Griesemer, who resigned from his position in 2012, wasn’t an engineer by trade. Buffardi described some of the regulations outlined by the EPA as highly technical and likely requiring someone with far greater expertise in the field.

“It was a very difficult task to take on unless you knew what you were doing,” he said.

The debacle has also raised the question of whether Rotterdam should again have a civil engineer on staff in Town Hall. Rotterdam has spent more than a decade without a municipal engineer and has instead relied on private companies to advise the town on projects; private developers are required to hire town-designated engineers who then report to the town.

The engineer’s position was abolished by the Town Board’s Democratic majority in 2003, so that the position of public works coordinator could be created. Griesemer, who was the chairman of the town’s Democratic Committee at the time, was hired to the coordinator’s position less than eight months later.

Buffardi said it’s likely time to revisit having a town engineer.

He said the town is now encountering a number of engineering issues that might be mitigated by having a qualified person on staff.

“Looking forward, we’re going to have to seriously address the situation of having an engineer on board,” he said.

 
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