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NYSNYS NEWS: At Budget2016 hearing, mayors says water crises in Troy, Hoosick Falls, raise specter of Flint, MI. They urge more money for infrastructure upgrades.
NYSNYS NEWS: At Budget2016 hearing, mayors says water crises in Troy, Hoosick Falls, raise specter of Flint, MI. They urge more money for infrastructure upgrades.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 27) — The water emergencies in Troy and Hoosick Falls show the need for the new state budget to provide money to upgrade local infrastructure and protect drinking water supplies, mayors from Troy and Syracuse told legislators Tuesday.

“I’ve been in office 26 days now and if you read the local papers or watch the local media you already know I’m here to speak of the dire need for more investment in municipal water infrastructure,” Troy Mayor Patrick Madden told legislators.

“We only need to turn on the television or read the newspaper to see the dangers of ignoring critical infrastructure that is playing out tragically before our eyes in Flint, Michigan,” added Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner. “We saw it in Troy and we are learning about it in Hoosick Falls as well … What is happening across the country is a stunning indictment of the age of deferred maintenance.”

She was referring to the polluted water that is blamed for possibly poisoning thousands of children in Michigan, the Troy water main failure, and to the unfolding situation in Hoosick Falls, where an underground toxic chemical plume is suspected of polluting the municipal water supply and causing rare cancers in residents.

Madden urged legislators to approve Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2016-17 budget proposal for $250 million for water infrastructure projects. “The stakes have never been higher for upstate communities like Troy,” he said, saying that without safe and reliable infrastructure, banks and businesses will not invest money in communities.

“I agree with you: This is critical in the budget,” Senator Kathy Marchione (R-Halfmoon) said. Assemblyman John McDonald also supported adding more money for infrastructure.

Miner has been an outspoken advocate for state aid to struggling upstate cities that don’t have the money to repair or replace crumbling infrastructure, and has clashed with Cuomo on the topic. Cuomo’s latest proposal is a shift for the governor, who in the past has rejected calls for more state assistance, saying the answer is for places like Syracuse to improve their local economy and tax base so they have enough money to pay their own way.

But the growing crises in upstate communities have made the situation more urgent in recent weeks.

Madden said the massive water line break affecting Troy and nine other communities “was not your average break. It was not like anything we had ever experienced before … water sprayed 6 feet into the air from a massive crater that had been torn open in the street. Pieces of shale and shattered concrete, (were being) pushed by rapidly moving streams pouring down Fifth Avenue.”

He said the failure of the 110-year old 33-inch water main poured 8 million gallons of water into the streets before it was shut off.

Troy has 145 miles of water lines underground, some dating back to the 1860s. Madden said the replacement cost is $2 million per mile, with the cost to replace 3,700 feet of the water main that broke estimated at $2.7 million. That is just 0.4 percent of the distribution system.

Madden said the riveted steel water line is the same type of line that runs for miles between Troy’s reservoir in rural Rensselaer County and the city. Planning has started to replace that line, with an estimated cost of $40 million.

He said the costs are mounting as the city “is in a very precarious fiscal state” that has built up over decades. “The budget I was given from the last (City) Council is structurally imbalanced … it leaves us with virtually no money to invest in infrastructure needs such as this.”

Both Madden and Miner testified near the end of a 9 1/2 hour budget hearing that opened with 6 hours devoted to New York City, with five hours of questioning of Mayor Bill de Blasio and an hour focused on Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The hearings are being held as lawmakers move toward passing a new $154 billion state budget by the April 1 start of the state’s new fiscal year.