SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Standing with mayors of the two largest cities in his district, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara on Monday proposed a new state fund to help cities, villages and towns pay for crippling water and sewer main breaks.
The pot of money, which would be called the Emergency Water Infrastructure Repair Fund, is being proposed as part of this year's budget. The third-term assemblyman wrote the legislation in response to a series of water and sewer pipe collapses over the past several years — most notably a breach in the city of Amsterdam's sewers that sent more than 500,000 gallons of sewage into the Mohawk River in 2016.
"The truth is that aging infrastructure has really put all of our communities in desperate need," Santabarbara said Monday, hosting a media event at Schenectady City Hall. He pointed to Amsterdam's sewer crisis as an example.
"It's an environmental risk. When you have sewage leaking out of a pipe somewhere, it needs to be taken seriously," Santabarbara said, decrying the state's current practice of awarding grant applications and low-interest loans to help pay for critical repairs.
Santabarbara's proposal would redirect 10 percent of the state's $2 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act into a quick-relief funding program for the next five years, which calculates out to roughly $40 million per year. Muncipalities in need of help would apply through the state's Environmental Facilities Board; situations deemed "emergencies" would then be funded at least in part for the cost of repairs.
In a phone call Monday evening, Santabarbara explained that once a project is funded as an "emergency," the funding should cover the entire cost of repairs — even if the municipality decides to use the opportunity to enact larger, long-term repairs to its pipes.
That was good news for Joe Coffey on Monday. The commissioner of Albany's water department oversaw repairs on two major pipe collapses in 2016, using both catastrophes to strengthen Albany's underground mains and prevent future breaks in those areas. One of those projects, at the intersection of South Lake Avenue and Elberon Place, cost the water department $3.2 million.
"The nature of the work we do is intended to be lasting," Coffey said. "It's not just a Band-Aid; we do a more surgical repair that's intended to have some permanence."
Santabarbara's infrastructure proposal is the second one proposed by a Capital Region lawmaker in the past two weeks. On February 16, Senator Jim Tedisco revived his SWAP legislation, which would provide for more consistent and equitable infrastructure funding from the state, as cities and towns work to update their aging pipes.