Greener, cheaper sewer system under consideration in Phoenicia

By Jay Braman Jr.
Phoenicia residents packed Shandaken Town Hall Saturday to hear more about an alternative sewer for the hamlet.
While some remain cautious about building any system at all, many at the two-and-half-hour session showed support for the latest version of a project that uses artificial wetlands and reed beds instead of the conventional concrete facility that a little more than half of Phoenicia voters voted down two years ago.
The hamlet has received at least two extensions to a deadline made by the City of New York after that vote. The most recent deadline, which ended last December, was granted to allow Phoenicia to do a feasibility study for an alternative treatment system. The city, which is offering $17.2 million to build the hamlet a conventional system, has now reviewed the alternative plan and refused to approve it.
On Saturday Richard Rennia of Rennia Engin-eering explained to the crowd that the city supplied specific objections to that first proposal, developed last fall by Rennia’s firm.
Now, he said, his staff has amended that proposal to include all the elements the city thought missing. The size of the system has doubled, he said, and now it includes the micro-filtration phase of treatment the city requires. As a result it will now cost as much to build the wetlands/reed bed system as the old conventional one, but would cost much less to operate.
The conventional system would have cost $375,000 a year to run. Rennia’s system would cost $177,000 a year.
Explaining the difficulty in getting the city to cooperate, Rennia said the city is taking cues from outdated state guidelines contained in the most current design manual - last updated in 1988 - and has understandably stayed within the manual’s parameters. But he also said that wetlands/ reed bed systems have become the norm all throughout Europe, where they began to install them in the late 1960s because communities could not afford conventional ones.
One resident said that with the recent change in leadership in the White House there would also be a change at the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. That agency, he expects, would be more inclined to support wetland/reed bed systems not only because of their greener approach to waste treatment and energy use, but also because they neutralize elements like hormones and pharmaceuticals, which conventional systems do not.
Kathy Nolan, a Mount Tremper resident, felt wetland/reed beds are “the system of the future,” and was surprised that they are not in the New York City watershed already.
Mike Ricciardella, who owns three restaurants in the hamlet, said that the tax base is so small in Phoenicia that businesses stand a chance of being crippled by costs, especially if repairs need to be made.
While homeowners would only pay $100 a year no matter which system is installed, businesses must pay based on usage.
Now all wait for the City of New York’s reaction to the amended plan. Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani said he expects word soon.