Orleans County lawmakers, already engaged in a legal battle over a wastewater pipeline for a major Genesee County industrial park, adopted a resolution on Tuesday that solidified the county’s position, further entrenching the government against the neighboring economic development agency.
Orleans County two weeks ago sued the Genesee County Economic Development Center — that county’s industrial development agency — in State Supreme Court over a sewage line for the Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park [STAMP] located in Genesee County’s Town of Alabama. The county asserts the Genesee County EDC has illegally pursued and funded eminent domain proceedings on its turf as it seeks to build the pipeline.
Judge Sanford Church last week issued a temporary restraining order against Genesee County EDC, forbidding any pipeline construction in Orleans County. At present, construction is paused in Genesee County as engineers for the economic development agency work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to clean up a fluid spill and other damage while drilling in the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.
If completed and operated at full capacity, the pipeline would carry as much as 6 million gallons of treated wastewater a day from the STAMP site to the Oak Orchard Creek, also called the Oak Orchard River, 9.5 miles away.
Tuesday’s action by the Orleans County Legislature takes its legal argument against the pipeline a step further by declaring the county will “preserve the Oak Orchard River.”
The Legislature “declares that it is the duty of Orleans County to act to preserve the Oak Orchard River and local tributaries in Orleans County for the economic vitality of affected communities,” the resolution reads.
Lawmakers adopted the resolution unanimously, with no discussion.
Legislator John Fitzak, a Republican from Kent, said the resolution was necessary because the Oak Orchard River is important to the county’s economy and is part of a fragile ecosystem. Damaging the Oak Orchard, he said, could mean less tourism revenue for the county and expensive problems the county would have to pay for.
He noted that the creek has been included on the list of “impaired” waterways under the federal Clean Water Act for years.
“The river has been on the hit list for a lot of years and between the runoff and everything else, if those levels start going up it will never get clean,” said Fitzak, who also serves on the County of Orleans Industrial Development Agency board.
A recent investigation by Investigative Post found that, because Oak Orchard Creek is on the impaired waterway list for phosphorus pollution, and because wastewater from STAMP is likely to contain phosphorus, the industrial park’s pipeline could end up violating the Clean Water Act.
Under the Clean Water Act, the DEC is supposed to eventually complete detailed studies of the waterway to determine what amount of phosphorus is acceptable, and how to clean up any amounts of the chemical that could damage fish or cause algae blooms. The DEC has not yet done those studies.
In the meantime, Orleans County officials said they’re left to fret about the potential impacts of the wastewater line. Officials have told Investigative Post they fear additional phosphorus in the water could drive away fish that feed and spawn in the river, harming their fishing and tourism industry. The resolution passed Tuesday notes the county sees some $27 million spent annually by tourists.
The resolution also noted that 6 million gallons per day could potentially worsen erosion and flooding. Fitzak said he
worries that the wastewater could contain harmful chemicals because Genesee County EDC is seeking discharge permits before knowing which companies will ultimately locate in its industrial park.
“You don’t know what the chemicals are five companies down the line,” he said.
He said he wants to see STAMP bring jobs to the region, but isn’t sure how to protect the river at the same time.
A spokesperson for Genesee County EDC did not return a request for comment.