Following spills, grinder pumps to be inspected annually

BERNE — During a March town board discussion on the town’s notification system for spills at Berne’s sewer plant, the town supervisor said what had originally been reported by The Enterprise in January as a sewage overflow from a grinder pump was in fact classified as a “saturation,” and later said that it was water used for cleaning only.

According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, the town was still required to notify the DEC and the Department of Health of the discharge, although the department ultimately decided that no action needed to be taken because there were no adverse effects.

Such immediate notification is required “of any untreated or partially treated sewage discharge, including graywater discharges,” a DEC specialist wrote The Enterprise in an email this week.

At the March meeting, Supervisor Sean Lyons said that he and two other town employees were added as official notifiers of a spill. He also said that he and the town’s engineering firm will be now be doing annual inspections of grinder pumps, using stickers to indicate an inspection has been made.

Although Councilwoman Karen Schimmer said at the meeting that she believed inspections have occurred before, Lyons told The Enterprise on Wednesday that there were none conducted last year, during his first year of office. He hopes to start inspections sometime this spring.

Lyons said he wanted to review notification requirements because of a spill this year, in which five gallons of sewage were discharged from a pipe on Helderberg Trail when it clogged.

He said that town workers stopped the spill by snaking the pipe before notifying the proper agencies three hours later, an hour past the two-hour time period set by law.

The hamlet’s sewer system, which was in the works for two decades, was completed in 2014, after the state required it be built because septic systems in the hamlet had been polluting the Fox Creek.

At the March meeting, Schimmer had asked if Berne had been fined for the earlier incident, which occurred last summer after a grinder pump at a home in the hamlet lost power and a temporary system was set up. Lyons said the town was not fined for the saturation. He later explained to The Enterprise that what overflowed was graywater, referring to water used for bathing and cleaning as opposed to sewage.

Lyons told The Enterprise on Wednesday that the DEC contacted the town about the June incident, and that both incidents and proper notification was discussed.

Lyons had told The Enterprise last month that the DEC was satisfied with the town’s explanation about the graywater spill. The DEC confirmed for The Enterprise that Berne notified the department in January of the June spill, and that the overflow did not involve any outflow of sewage.

The department also said it would not take any action because there were no impacts to public health or the environment, although it was later confirmed that graywater discharges are required to be reported in the same manner as other sewage discharge.

The property owner, Roger Wright, had told The Enterprise that last summer a transformer gave out at his neighbor’s vacant house that led to the grinder pump — shared between the two homes — to stop working. While repairs were being made, a generator was used to operate the grinder pump. Wright said that the pump overflowed occasionally, but described it as “a liquid overflow” that he did not believe reached any bodies of water.

“It stays part-way full all the time and, if it’s not being pumped down, the last 30 or 40 gallons will overflow; it’s normally liquid, a liquid overflow,” he said.

“It’s not like it was running down the yard or anything like that,” Wright said.

The incident was mentioned in a June 11 email from the supervisor to town board members, which The Enterprise obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request. Lyons had written that the handling of the incident “was a fine example of Representative Government” due to Schimmer being contacted by the resident using the pump and the supervisor and other town officials finding a solution.

“It could have easily escalated into an Enterprise event and TBM [town board meeting] disruption, thankfully it will not be,” Lyons wrote in the email. “If we could foster this type of community involvement it will definitely help us run the town government more efficient and with less public distress at our meeting.”

Lyons had initially not responded to The Enterprise when the article was written, saying he would comment after speaking to the town attorney.

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