Auburn (WSYR-TV) - Auburn City Councilors have voted to ban gas drilling companies from discharging wastewater at the City's treatment plant.
After processing, the water from the plant is released into the Owasco River. Protestors were adamantly against the plant accepting the wastewater because they say it was not meant to process wastewater from gas wells.
"We don't believe there's any such thing as good natural gas drilling waste," said Beth Cuddy of Cayuga Anti-Fracking.
A petition about the subject garnered more than 1,300 signatures.
"If Auburn essentially adopts a policy of not accepting this, it's going to set a precedent for the rest of the nation," said Walter Hang, of Toxics Targeting Ithaca.
Speaker after speaker shared concerns about health, water supplies, plants and wildlife. Even city leaders raised questions.
"Are we going to get what we really believe we are getting? It's very possible the load could be switched," said Mayor Michael Quill. "I'm not blaming the drivers of the company, but it's very easily done."
Previously, the City's treatment plant had earned an average of about $600,000 per year for processing the wastewater. The City's Director of Municipal Utilities said the plant was permitted to accept the water by the Department of Environmental Conservation and was monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"It is a financial loss to the city, but we have to do what is right," Mayor Quill said.
Auburn residents protest wastewater plant's accepting water from gas wells
Auburn (WSYR-TV) - A large afternoon rally outside Auburn City Hall has moved inside to the Common Council's chamber for a meeting. They want councilors to stop allowing the City's wastewater treatment plant to take water from gas well drilling operations.
The Common Council is not expected to take any action on the issue tonight. In fact, the item isn't even on the agenda, but a moratorium from the Mayor's office could be considered within the next few weeks.
Protestors say they hope councilors are hearing them and remember their message if the moratorium does come across their desks.
"It's a scary thing that's happening here," said rally organizer Doug Ward. "It's a smaller part of a much bigger issue, but I think we need to call attention to it locally first."
"if your plant is designed to treat sewage, than that's what its meant for," said rally organizer Walt Aikman.
The water from the plant is released into the Owasco River after it is processed. Aikman, Ward and the other protesters worry what might happen if the waste water from gas well drilling isn't properly processed.
"I think we have to remember that the Owasco River is a precious natural resource and it isn't meant to be an industrial waste channel for the entire gas industry for the State of New York," Aikman said.
Vicky Murphy, Auburn's Director of Municipal Utilities, says the plant had to get a DEC permit to accept the well water. The plant is also monitored by the EPA and has taken part in several City-directed tests. "We actually have and activated sludge plant, which are microorganisms that are alive. They're very sensitive to toxins," said Murphy. "We've never seen an adverse effect."
The City says less than one percent of what's treated at the plant is water from natural gas well drilling sites and none of it is from the controversial horizontal hydrofracking method in the Marcellus Shale.
"We're meeting all the regulations," Murphy said.
The plant does charge for processing the well water, to the tune of an average of about $600,000 over the last three years. It's equivalent to about 21 percent of the department budget.
The mayor said a moratorium is in the works that would stop Auburn from accepting this well water until it can be guaranteed every load is what it claims to be. He said it would have no specific end date.