By Kellen M. Quigley

As plans for a potential sewer district project in Kill Buck continue coming together, the Great Valley Town Board recently held a second public hearing explaining more of the project’s development and what is to come.

The potential $3.37 million project would see a sewer system built on the north side of Route 417 from the Great Valley Creek east to Hardscrabble Road that would take the sewage, grind it up and pump it to a nearby Salamanca pump station.

“We’ve been working for almost two years to get as much information as we can to go after as much grant money as we can to make this system feasible,” Town Supervisor Dan Brown said.

At the board’s Feb. 10 meeting, Caleb Henning of MDA Engineers said they have spent several months preparing a report based on a study in the Kill Buck area for the project.

“We identified an area to study because of the failing septic systems and the need for a solution to address those problems,” he said. The project’s area includes about 100 homes and several businesses on Route 417 and portions of Kill Buck, Hardscrabble and Halsaver roads.

Funding for the study only covered the portion of Kill Buck not located on Seneca Nation Territory primarily south of Route 417, Henning explained. He said a future project could include properties on Nation territory, but the report is only based on land off territory.

“The pipe could stay on the north side and one or two connections could be made to service everybody,” he said. The study showed that much of the soil is not ideal for septic systems, which is why many are failing and would be difficult to replace, Henning said.

The project would include laying pipe and hooking into the houses and businesses and installing a grinder pump at each property to process and move the sewage towards Salamanca to the pump station.

“The capital cost would be funded through a zero percent, 30-year loan,” Henning said. “Breaking that down, that comes up to an estimated first-year cost of $1,012 per year per user. That’s a very high cost, and that’s not going to be feasible with only a zero percent loan. You still have to add operation and maintenance onto that.”

Once built, the project would cost about $61,200 a year to operate and maintain, Henning said, which would be divided among the property owners, in addition to the initial capital cost.

“It really ends up being $1,500 to $1,600 per year per user, which is some of the highest costs I’ve ever seen in my experience,” he said. Henning said a target charge would be about $950.

The other two project alternatives MDA Engineers developed cost $3.5 million for a gravity collection system and $4.4 million for a septic tank collection system, Henning said.

TO HELP OFFSET costs, the town board is pursuing some grants that could cover a large portion and lower the residents’ bills as much as possible. 

“This report does identify a project that doesn’t seem feasible, but it also gives a document to use to apply for funding to make it more cost-effective,” he added.

For the planning process, Catherine Rees, a water resources specialist with RCAP Solutions, said the town held meetings with Salamanca and Seneca Nation officials, communicated with the state Department of Housing, submitted the applications for preliminary planning and held a public hearing for the study.

“Last year there was a hearing that said you’re looking to get money and the decision was made that you would spend it on the study,” she said. “This is the required second public hearing that says what is the result of that money you spent.”

During the preliminary design phase, Rees said the town selected MDA as its engineering firm, which developed the district boundary map for the project. She said those designs and the results of the study were sent to various entities including the Department of Agriculture, SHPO, SEQR and DEC as well as the Seneca Nation.

“Because you’re so close to the Seneca Nation, my concern is if there’s going to be tribal concerns,” she said. “You are staying off the reservation, but you’re only across the road, so we don’t know historically if there are any artifacts or anything they’d be concerned about.”

Now that the project’s preliminary design process is nearly complete, Rees said the town will begin looking and applying for various funding sources. A major aspect of getting the funding will be an income survey, which had begun last year but with little feedback from households in the sewer district.

“There is one funding agency in particular … if you want to even be eligible to apply, and it would be up to a million-dollar grant, we have to get a good response on this survey,” she said.

Rees said some additional funding applications are due in a few months, but without enough residents submitting the survey to RCAP Solutions, the town won’t get the grants and the project costs won’t be funded. A second mailing was sent out earlier this month, she said.

“This second round, we need more,” Brown said. “This is really dependent on the more income surveys (RCAP Solutions) gets back.”

“We’re looking to keep trying with all the funding sources until you can get to that level, and it might take a couple of years,” she said. “Until you get the funding, you’re not going to go to final design.”

Henning said other options to offset cost include negotiating with the city of Salamanca to come up with a mutually agreeable treatment cost and bringing more homes and businesses into the district, particularly along Route 417.

“If the system is there, the potential for growth is much greater than what we’re seeing right now,” Brown said.

Henning said if the south side of Route 417 were to hook into the system in the future, the pipes would have enough capacity to handle the extra amount of sewer, and more property owners in the system would help pay for the costs.