Tonawanda News

January 27, 2010

TOWN OF TONAWANDA: Two-year Parker-Fries water project to be the first of many

By Daniel Pye<br><a href="mailto:pyed@gnnewspaper.com">E-mail Dan</a>

After the town begins installing new water lines along Parker Boulevard in April, Acting Water Resource Director Ken Maving said residents will probably not see a month without some type of water project for the next few decades.

That’s because the town’s water infrastructure — much of which was installed as the town expanded during the 1950s and beyond — is decaying and in desperate need of repair. Councilman Joseph Emminger, the town board’s most vocal proponent for improving the system, said this spring is the beginning of a long and costly process that can’t wait any longer.

“That existing infrastructure was actually the catalyst for development in many of these communities, but it’s outlived its useful life,” he said.

The strain on the system is becoming more evident each passing year, with expensive line breaks and collapses becoming a somewhat regular occurrence. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates a $2.2 trillion cost nationwide over the next five years stemming from neglected replacements, and the number continues to grow as communities push improvements off.

In the 1970s, when the town undertook building a new water treatment facility — its last major improvement project to date — the federal government picked up 75 percent of the cost and the state kicked in 12.5 percent. Now, to complete improvements mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation, the town is on the hook for roughly $200 million with no direct aid from either.

A 2006 collapse of the line near Kenmore East High School cost $120,000 to repair, but the money spent was only part of the problem. When the regular route for sewage was shut down, the system sent waste out through sanitary sewer overflow junctions just as it was designed to. But that event emphasized the problems with the old way of doing things, since the SSO keeps sewage out of people’s basements by sending it into their lakes and streams.

Under orders from the EPA and DEC, the town has worked out a plan to eliminate the 94 SSOs in its sewer system. In the process, leaders have set an ambitious goal of replacing all of the town’s sewer lines in the process.

But instead of replacing the existing line, which would require shutting off service as crews work and digging up people’s yards and curbs, Maving said the town is creating an entirely new system that will run down the middle of the street. In a presentation to the town board Monday afternoon, Maving used photos of the dilapidated water lines leading to the Parker-Fries pumping station to make his case.

“Clearly there are areas where the crowning is missing and we’re showing rebar,” he said.

The project is almost through the engineering stage. Spring construction will begin on Parker near the pumping station, just north of the I-290. Crews will proceed down Parker, then southeast along Eggert Road and south on Fries Road before wrapping up just south of Sheridan Drive. That course is expected to take two years.

This first phase, at a cost of $24 million, is part of a larger project to address water and sewer problems for a substantial portion of the town’s east side. All four phases are expected to take seven years.

While Maving said much of the work will be done by tunneling rather than digging, he admitted there will be times when residents will be inconvenienced by the work. To minimize that impact, Conestoga-Rovers & Associates — the firm handling the project — is expected to launch a public relations campaign to distribute information to affected residents.

Stephen Waldvogel, a project manager for CRA, said public meetings will be scheduled as soon as the construction timeline is finalized. Parker Boulevard residents will be invited to the meetings, and Waldvogel said prior to construction in specific areas company representatives will be sent door to door to leave door hangers with times for construction and contact information for those with questions.

“We will be tagging doors of homes that will be directly impacted, ideally, a week before their street is dug up,” Waldvogel said.

While Waldvogel was confident the company would be able to handle communications, town board members still saw a potential for problematic gaps in communication. Councilman John Bargnesi said seniors who are not computer savvy and people coming back from long vacations in Florida who have been out of the local loop for months at a time are of particular concern. Waldvogel said a phone number where people can get updates on the project 24 hours a day will be made available before construction begins.

Contact reporter Daniel Pye at 693-1000, ext. 158.