Tuesday, October 26, 2010

UAlbany drops sewer hookup plan

Published: 12:00 a.m., Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ALBANY -- As construction begins at the site of the University at Albany's new 500-bed dormitory, school officials have given up on a controversial plan to connect the two five-story buildings' sewer system to Albany's aging infrastructure and a pump station along the Krumkill Creek.

UAlbany originally planned to link the new apartment-style dorm to older sewer lines along Western Avenue that lead to the Woodville pump station.

But that plan sparked concerns that the added volume might increase bacteria spilling into the Krumkill during heavy storms, when the pump station is allowed to overflow a certain amount into the Hudson River tributary according to an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The plan also triggered worries that the added volume could exacerbate sewer backups in homes downstream in the city -- a problem DEC has ordered the city to remedy.

Karl Luntta, a UAlbany spokesman, confirmed that the university has decided not to connect to the city's Western Avenue sewers but said UAlbany still believes its plan, which centered on making repairs to the sewer pipes to mitigate the impact of the new volume, would have succeeded.

"We assessed our options," Luntta said. "Certainly there were questions that were being asked, and we do believe that we were in the right place."

The two most likely alternatives are connecting to the town of Guilderland's sewer system, also along Western Avenue, or pumping the sewage north directly to Albany's newer Patroon Creek sewer along Washington Avenue -- both of which would be more costly for UAlbany to maintain.

Luntta said the university hasn't decided which it favors.

Guilderland Supervisor Ken Runion said the town has discussed the possibility of connection with UAlbany -- including an estimated $338,000 mitigation fee the school would have to pay the town to make up for the increased burden on the system.

The fight over the sewer system was the last battle in neighbors' efforts to scuttle the dorm project amid fears it would also cause surface flooding, traffic, noise and other problems on Tudor Road, which is adjacent to the construction site on the campus' southeastern corner near the Boor Sculpture Studio.

To allay some of those fears, UAlbany has amended its plans for the $60 million project, funding permitting, to include rooftop vegetation in parts of the complex, as well as rain gardens and the strategic use of permeable pavement in the new 350-space parking lot -- all to reduce the amount of water flowing off the site and into storm sewers.

Neighbors also protested clearing of the land -- more than a dozen wooded acres, including nearly 3.5 acres of the Harriman State Office Campus.

That work has already begun. This fall, workers will focus on building a berm to shield neighbors from the two five-story buildings and preparations to move the campus ring road, University Drive, some 450 feet east of its current location.

The dorm is expected to open in August 2012.

Reach Jordan Carleo-Evangelist at 454-5445 or jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com.