MOUNT VERNON, NY — July 9, 2018 — Bringing Mount Vernon’s sewers into federal compliance comes down to seven words.
(Warning: they are all F-words, but they are not dirty.)
Please join me at this Wednesday’s City Council meeting in City Hall at 7 p.m. Our environmental attorneys and representatives from the federal government have been invited to lay out Mount Vernon’s best path forward for fixing our sewers and complying with state and federal law.
The city must correct its violations of the Clean Water Act. Compliance is a fact. The only discussion with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency is over how long and how much will it cost to comply.
Three major flashpoints have brought us to where we are today.
- In 2008, the City began missing or ignoring Environmental Protection Agency directives.
- In 2016, upon the arrival of Mayor Thomas, the City Council and Comptroller began defunding positions critical to compliance. Things got so bad that a state Supreme Court judge had to order the Comptroller and Council to stop “disrupting” and “obstructing” the Mayor’s authority to pay salaries and benefits.
- In 2018, the EPA lost patience after a decade, and had the Department of Justice filed suit against the city.
The City must find the problems sending “illicit discharges” from our sewers into our waterways, primarily the Hutchinson and Bronx Rivers. This requires inspecting 600,000 linear feet of pipes and drains, which should take 18 to 24 months and will help prioritize the work behind the overall compliance plan.
To fix Mount Vernon’s crumbling sewer system so it meets state and federal standards will probably take at least a decade.
Compliance carries a multi-million dollar price tag, which includes the cost of the work, plus fines. While funding will be the biggest ongoing challenge – 49 percent of the city’s population live at or below the poverty line – some costs can be offset. For example, the $1.8 million cost of the sewer inspections can be reduced to under $200,000 because the City is eligible for a $1.6 million state grant. To secure it, Mount Vernon simply needs to hire grant writers, but the Council and Comptroller continue to refuse to pay for them. That must change.
Instead of trying to protect taxpayers, the Council and Comptroller are putting the City at great financial risk by refusing to act responsibly. Fines can reach $37,500 a day per violation and could date back to “at least January 2012,” according to the federal complaint. Every $1 million hikes property taxes by 2%.
I need your voice to get the City Council to appreciate how vital this matter is. Please sign up to attend the upcoming City Council meeting on Wednesday, July 11, 2018, at 7:00 PM at City Hall. You must call 914-665-2351 or 914-665-2352 no later than 2:00 pm on July 11 to sign up to speak to them that night. Share this information with your friends and neighbors. Thank you again for your support and please do not hesitate to reach out to my office with any questions. We can be reached at 914-665-2361 or via email at MayorThomas@cmvny.com.
Mayor Richard Thomas