GOSHEN - An Orange County panel on Tuesday endorsed expanding the county's sewage treatment plant in Harriman over a costlier and more time-consuming alternative for handling the massive growth expected in the region that uses the plant.
The expansion and upgrade would cost $54 million under the approach that consultants recommended as the least expensive. A committee of lawmakers and officials who have been studying the issue for the last year voted without dissent to support that option, setting in motion a formal review by the Legislature.
If approved, the project would increase the plant's treatment capacity by 50 percent, raising its flow limit to 9 million gallons per day from 6 million gallons per day. The work also would make improvements that the consultants, Delaware Engineering, have proposed to extend the life of the plant, first built in the 1970s and expanded twice since then.
The cost would be borne over time by property owners in the eight villages and towns that use the plant, although it was unclear on Tuesday how the county would distribute that cost. Some municipal leaders, both on Tuesday and earlier, have objected to their residents paying for added capacity they don't need.
Harriman Mayor Stephen Welle, whose village is largely built-out, told the committee he understood sharing the cost of extending the plant's life but wanted new developments to shoulder the expansion expense, expected to make up about half of the $54 million estimate.
Much of the expected growth in the service area is in Kiryas Joel, where several thousand homes are under construction or in planning stages. The plant also serves the villages of Monroe, Harriman, South Blooming Grove and Chester and parts of the Village of Woodbury and towns of Monroe and Chester.
In supporting a plant expansion, the panel set aside - but didn't entirely rule out - the option of building a new treatment plant on the Hudson River and piping wastewater there to avoid constraints on the Harriman plant, which empties into the narrow Ramapo River. That alternative was estimated to cost $171 million and would take longer to complete.
The approach endorsed on Tuesday assumes the county overcomes a second major challenge: a conflict with the state Department of Environmental Conservation over new restrictions it wants to impose on the Harriman plant. County officials have been fighting those permit terms, which they say would saddle ratepayers with enormous new costs - on top of the expansion expense.
County Attorney Langdon Chapman and Mary Beth Bianconi of Delaware Engineering told committee members on Tuesday that the county plans to apply to the DEC for a variance from the disputed permit limits and hopes to know the outcome in six months.
Bianconi distributed a tentative schedule for the plant expansion that expects construction to start in 2023 and take two years to complete, making the new treatment capacity available by the end of 2024.