MECHANICVILLE, N.Y. — U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko toured the city’s water treatment plant last week as part of a local tour of 10 community projects he has submitted from his district for federal funding in 2022.

Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and several of his staff were given a tour of the water treatment plant on George Thompson Road June 3. Joining them were Commissioner of Accounts Mark Seber, Commissioner of Finance Keith Johnson, Chief Water Plant Operator Jim Horner and Don Fletcher, senior vice president with Barton and Loguidice, the engineering firm for the city’s Water Reliability Project.

That Mechanicville project, along with nine others from Tonko’s district, has been chosen to be submitted to the House Committee on Appropriations for $800,000 in federal funding.

Upon receiving word that the Committee was accepting Community Project Funding (CPF) requests and that each member of the House could submit 10 projects, Tonko gave notice that he would look at all applications that fit the Committee’s eligibility requirements.

Noting that the CPF review is competitive and the funding process will be highly selective with no guarantee for funding, Tonko selected project applications like extending broadband for rural parts of Westerlo, dental expansion for the underserved in Schenectady, expansion of Capital Roots’ Urban Grow Center in Troy and the water reliability project in Mechanicville along with six others.

The city’s Water Reliability Project proposes to repair and replace several miles of old and undersized water mains to provide safe and reliable public utilities to several hundred residents and multiple local businesses. The existing cast iron water mains were installed between 1892 and 1928 and the aging pipes are susceptible to water main breaks on a weekly basis.

The breaks result in the water department being forced to shut down the entire system to repair the water mains. This action results in mandatory boil water notices and poor quality of life to residents and businesses. Emergency fire services have been adversely impacted also due to inoperable hydrants and undersized water mains in addition to the regular water line breaks.

The cost as submitted to Tonko is $1 million. The city has committed to provide up to 20 percent with matching funds if the project receives federal funding.

During the one-hour-long tour Tonko, a civil engineer by trade, discussed what the funding would do for city residents and businesses as well as the city’s economy.

Seber said there are great needs for replacing many of the city’s aging water lines, a cost that is much greater than what the city applied for through Tonko’s office.

“If we’re successful in getting the funding, we have a major route (of water lines) picked out that will get replaced,” he said. “We’ll take a look at the amount of money that is left after that and pick and choose which streets we can complete with the remaining funds.” 

Seber noted that the federal funding request is just one part of a much larger water reliability plan that the city is undertaking.

“One part was to connect to Saratoga County’s water for a secondary source which we did. Another part is replacing as many water lines in the city as possible and also update some of the electronics in the plant,” he said. “The water treatment plant is 14 or 15 years old and there are electronics out there now that weren’t available then. And we want to dredge the reservoir; the silt is affecting capacity.”

Seber added that for a small city like Mechanicville the cost of doing such things is very difficult without help with funding.

“I’ll say that he’s been terrific, the Congressman has been very supportive of these projects,” Seber said. “Communities our size just can’t pull this kind of money out of our pockets.”

Over the past five years, Seber said the city has spent $7.5 million on different parts of the Water Reliability Project, much of the funding coming from sources like the Department of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others.

Infrastructure, he said, isn’t the most glamorous of projects one can do in a city but they are very much needed and Mechanicville has done a lot over the last 10 years and this one would be very helpful.

City officials decided to bring Tonko to the water treatment plant rather than tour a few streets to give a picture of the city’s full plan for improvements.

“It was a very productive and useful conversation. He was very knowledgeable,” Seber said. “He was the one who kind of directed the conversation. He has a full understanding of what we’re looking for. I came away very satisfied with the meeting and impressed at how well it was handled. I appreciate that we are one of the 10 projects on the Congressman’s list.”

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