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Auburn sewer system designed to minimize risk of overflows

SENNETT — As one of 600 municipalities with a combined sewer system in New York, the city of Auburn is required to submit reports through the NY-Alert system in the event of any overflow discharge.

At a meeting of the Cayuga County Water Quality Management Agency Thursday, Auburn Municipal Utilities Director Seth Jensen provided an explanation of combined sewer overflows.

Under the 2013 Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, municipalities with publicly-owned treatment works or publicly-owned sewer systems must report any untreated or partially treated discharges to the state within two hours and to the public in four through the NY-Alert system.

"If a drop from the sanitary system makes it out of the pipes and into the environment, we note it," Jensen said.

Combined sewers collect stormwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater in the same system and transport it to a wastewater treatment facility, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

During wet weather events like significant rainfall or snow melt, such sewers are designed and permitted to overflow into a waterbody. In Auburn's case, the system flows into the Owasco River.

In Auburn, which has more than 100 miles of sanitary sewers and 65 miles of stormwater sewer in the 16-square-mile city, approximately 85 percent of the system is separated, while the remainder is combined, according to Jensen.

A 6.5 million gallon storage and release facility that activates during peak flows helps ward against overflow events, which the city is able to monitor for using a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system.

When an overflow discharge does occur, rather than simply flowing into the river, the water is partially treated by one of four high-rate treatment facilities throughout the city.

Each of the facilities partially treats the water in a process that includes the use of what's called a swirl converter. Water flows into into a rounded structure that forces floating materials, including grease and oils from restaurants, to the bottom while smaller solids are caught by a collector.

The facilities are only allowed four discharges per year under the permit issued by the DEC. If the city separated more of the system — which a 1993 DEC consent order stopped it from doing — that could mean stormwater runoff would go untreated.

In the currently separated sections, stormwater flows in specific catch basins within the city.

Separating the parts of the system which are still combined would come at a significant cost, according to Jensen. Just the planning for such a move would likely be approximately $2 million, while actual implementation could run as much as $20 to $30 million.

In the meantime, Jensen said the utilities department is constantly identifying funding to enable them to strategically "pick away" at areas. For example, the city recently applied for a grant to combine a current project mapping the system with an engineering study that would allow points of inflow and infiltration to be identified and repaired, reducing the likelihood of overflows.

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Auburn business remembers Pearl Harbor with notable American flag

In remembrance of the attack on Pearl Harbor, an Auburn business will raise a flag Friday that was flown over the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor on last year's anniversary of the 1941 attack that propelled the nation into World War II.

Seventy-seven years ago on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor — a U.S. naval base in Hawaii — was surprised by a devastating attack by Japan that killed about 2,400 sailors, soldiers and civilians and wounded about 1,000 more people. The next day, president Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan and the U.S. entered World War II.

Although Emperor Michinomiya Hirohito announced Japan's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, it was aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2 that Japan formally surrendered to the Allies. These surrender documents marked the end of WWII. Today, the USS Missouri is part of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites.

While on vacation in Hawaii earlier this year, Michael Cartner, chief financial officer and an owner of Currier Plastics, spotted a flag in a store at the Pearl Harbor Memorial site that said it flew over the USS Missouri on Dec. 7, 2017, said Currier's Sales and Marketing Manager Elizabeth Roberts. Due to the battleship's significance and connection to Pearl Harbor, Cartner bought the flag and brought it back to Currier Plastics with the idea that the company could fly it on Dec. 7. 

Roberts said Currier is "pretty patriotic" and staff were enthusiastic about the idea, especially since many employees are veterans. In a meeting about the flag-raising ceremony this week, Roberts said staff went around the room to share what the flag meant to them and a former Marine said, "I see my freedom when I see the flag."

"There's still some of us who are personally touched by (Pearl Harbor)," said Roberts, who's father was a Pearl Harbor survivor. Others, she added, are also connected by knowing a friend or family member who was there or by having served in the military. 

At 8:15 a.m. Friday morning, the company will gather for what Roberts described as a "small, intimate ceremony," to raise the flag in Currier's courtyard. It will fly at half-staff in honor of former President George H.W. Bush, who died last week, and those who lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Any veterans in the area are welcome to come and join the ceremony. 

Eagle Scouts Jason Schmidt and Tim Walawender will raise the flag "by the book," Roberts said, and Currier employees and veterans Pat Hahn, Jason Kelley, Mike Rojo, Corey Richardson and Cory Pine will "be up front and center" during the flag-raising.

The ceremony is important to Currier because the company sees it as a way "to recognize the day and not forget what happened" as well as to "celebrate and honor" the American flag, Roberts said.

Ryan McMahon outlines agenda, answers lake questions at Skaneateles town hall meeting

SKANEATELES — On a snowy Thursday night in central New York, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon faced questions about water quality and outlined a few of his top priorities during an hour-long town hall meeting. 

Many of the questions asked during the open forum focused on the health of Skaneateles Lake. Harmful algal blooms were present on the lake this year, which raised water quality concerns. The lake provides drinking water to several municipalities in Onondaga County, including Skaneateles and the city of Syracuse. 

In response to a question about what the county is doing to address toxic blooms, McMahon highlighted the importance of partnerships. He explained that the county is working with the town of Skaneateles and state agencies to develop strategies for combating the problem. 

McMahon acknowledged that climate change is a factor in the development of the blooms. He mentioned other proven or potential factors, such as runoff into the lake and the use of pesticides on lawns. 

It's not yet known, McMahon added, if the reemergence of the harmful algal blooms will be a permanent problem or a temporary challenge. But he wants the county and other stakeholders to be ready. 

"This lake is the heart and soul of not just this community, but of the rest of our county," he told the crowd of about 30 people who attended the meeting at Skaneateles Town Hall. He recognized the lake as the county's "best economic asset." 

Cayuga County Legislature Vice Chairman Tim Lattimore was among those who asked questions. He expressed interest in Cayuga County entering a shared services agreement to use water provided by the Onondaga County Water Authority. 

Being able to tap into OCWA's supply would give parts of Cayuga County "dual sources of water," Lattimore said. He supports the idea because of what he described as the "degradation of Owasco Lake." If the water supply from Owasco Lake can't be used for some reason, OCWA's supply could be a backup. 

McMahon offered to work with Lattimore on the issue. 

Before taking questions, McMahon outlined what he views as the three challenges facing the county: modernizing infrastructure, refocusing economic development initiatives and addressing poverty. 

With sewers crumbling and municipalities across the county with aging water pipes, McMahon considers it an economic development problem. He said there are two local companies looking to expand, but the infrastructure presents challenges. 

"They can do it here or go somewhere else," he said. 

He wants to focus on existing businesses to boost economic development. That could lead to more investment and job retention, he said. 

With the county's economic development efforts he wants to promote local assets, such as Onondaga Lake. Redeveloping the west of the lake, he said, can help it become a tourism draw. 

He also touted some of the region's major industries, including agriculture, engineering and the life sciences. 

"We're going to focus our strengths and we're not going to go swinging for the fences on some of these projects that don't make sense for us," he said. 

Poverty rounds out McMahon's to-do list. He noted that there is poverty not just in urban areas, but in rural areas and the suburbs. He knows the data, especially in Syracuse, but doesn't want that to define the city or county. 

He will unveil a plan to combat poverty within the next 60 days. He offered a glimpse at his plan by revealing it will focus on education, health, housing, transportation and workforce development. 

"We're going to talk everywhere we go about poverty," he said. "We're going to talk about what results and success looks like." 

It was McMahon's third town hall meeting since being appointed county executive. He was chairman of the Onondaga County Legislature before taking on the new role. 

He succeeded Joanie Mahoney, the longtime county executive who resigned to take a job with the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She is the chief operating officer at the school, and an adviser to SUNY Upstate Medical University. 

McMahon has three other town hall meetings scheduled for later this month. His next forum is Tuesday at Clay Town Hall. He will follow that with a meeting Dec. 13 at Cicero Town Hall and Dec. 17 at Salina Town Hall. The events, which are open to the public, begin at 6:30 p.m. 

Former Auburn inmate facing murder charge denies there is a dead body

AUBURN — A former Auburn Correctional Facility inmate refused to appear in Cayuga County Court Thursday to face a charge of first-degree murder because he says there is no victim.

Rupert Alberga, 36, currently in custody at Great Meadow Correctional Facility, according to the state's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, was arraigned in September in connection with the death of Daniel Wingate, a convicted sex offender.

In July 2017, ACF corrections officers found Wingate unresponsive in his cell, covered in blood. Wingate was transported to Auburn Community Hospital and died days later due to complications from blunt force injuries to the head, the Cayuga County District Attorney's office previously reported.

Following an investigation, Alberga and fellow inmate Ashton Bellamy, 32, both faced charges. Alberga was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, class A felonies, while Bellamy was charged with first-degree manslaughter, a class B felony, and second-degree assault, a class D felony.

Although both inmates were scheduled to appear in Cayuga County Criminal Court before Judge Thomas Leone Thursday morning, Alberga was absent.

Leone said that Alberga "refused to leave his (prison) cell," and Alberga's defense attorney, Joseph Sapio, also said he was told that Alberga refused transport. Sapio said he met with Alberga on Oct. 18 and said that the defendant "refuses to acknowledge that there is a decedent in this matter."

"He hasn't been able to assist me in any form of defense," Sapio said. "He doesn't think there is a dead body."

Sapio said Alberga claims the autopsy results were fabricated.

Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann had offered to sentence Alberga to 15 years to life in prison. Alberga is currently serving a 24-year-to-life sentence — with earliest parole eligibility in 2035 — for his 2014 conviction of second-degree murder in Albany County Court.

Leone adjourned the case until Jan. 3 to allow for Sapio to either get an affidavit from Alberga allowing the court proceedings to move forward without his presence, and began the process of initiating a force order to make Alberga appear in court if he doesn't sign the affidavit.

Bellamy, previously convicted of assault in Nassau County, appeared in court Thursday and his defense attorney, Rome Canzano, said that Bellamy does not contest the death of Wingate.

Both Alberga and Bellamy have trial dates set to begin April 1.