Finding Sufficient Sewer Money Sooner

A quite remarkable nature/human asymmetry has been in process at a location in the middle of Chautauqua County, aptly called Chautauqua Lake. This Lake and successive generations of human lives have somewhat cheerfully coexisted for a couple of hundred years already. But now this relationship is at a strained and aging crossroads for their continued togetherness. Either a “tough burden” or a “wonderful opportunity” lies before current county property owners and residents. These long-term visiting humans have not sufficiently cared for their own waste treatment, along the way. What can be done, going forward?

These coming-and-going rapacious humans recurrently regenerate themselves anew, while the Lake is kind of stuck right where it’s seemingly forever at; as the lone and voiceless compulsory-host of its often self-serving visitors. Following its long host-ship, to innumerable cycles of human guests, this lovely and loving lake is now long overdue for a kind restoration. Unfortunately, only today’s cycle of uninvited human guests can provide for this necessary redux! This stark reality can be either dreaded as a “costly problem,” or it can be welcomed as a “constructive potential” for a better, cleaner lake. This choice is with the present life cycle of human guests, surrounding her tired, heavily silt-laden shores.

As most property owners know, the County’s namesake, Chautauqua Lake, is already under serious sanitation and ecological stress. This is due in large part to the now long-overdue and serious need for both storm and sanitary sewer upgrades and additions. Our problems today arise from many decades of disregarded flows of human waste, storm runoffs and farm waste and chemical runoffs, from properties surrounding the lake, known as the watershed. Quality solutions are already planned, but sufficient reconstruction capital must yet be secured. Chautauqua’s Watershed Conservancy, Lake Association and Watershed Alliance are all strong advocates who have worked in tandem tirelessly for cleaning up Chautauqua Lake now.

Critically important: the consequences of continued delays in constructive solutions, by the wider authorities, are severe, and threaten to destabilize the entire county; for one, because a clean Chautauqua Lake is the most sizable business, economic, and property-tax driver for the entire County. Secondly, all property owners are accordingly also at serious net-worth risk from continued inaction and more resulting pollution degradation to the lake areas’ property values!

These facts are well known, due to a professional study and analysis, the “Integrated Sewage Management Plan for Chautauqua Lake,” already online for anyone to read. The somewhat onerous challenge now is finding sufficient money to finance an expeditious start, to implementation of this important formal cleanup plan. Twenty or more years could be required for completion of full implementation, but a clear constructive physical start means everything.

In fairness, this sizable new-money search, to begin funding serious construction proceedings, must begin with two crucial questions: Who has caused/contributed to the accumulated pollution of the lake?  And, who will benefit, going forward, from the Lake’s thorough cleanup efforts? The answer of course, to both questions, is: Chautauqua County business, farm, and residential property owners, throughout the County. The sheer relative scale of the current tax-base, for properties surrounding Chautauqua Lake, has serious risk implications for virtually all aspects of the entire County and its outlying cities and communities.

No one likes to face pricy transitions, so the easiest deceptive alternative to beginning visible construction now is to perpetually deliberate; to the extent that “getting something done” becomes a deceptive illusion or a fantasy of passing time. In reality, the deep seriousness and magnitude of the huge consequential costs resulting from further-delayed constructive action should be a motivator to mobilize corrective sewer construction now. The referenced formal lake-recovery plan has been completed for 2 years now; yet, the mounting sewer and farm waste defecation to the Lake continues, and associated remedial costs continue to rise, each day.

It should be noted, whenever actual results really do matter, good and timely decision making is both an art and a science: an art, because living/creative thinking is a necessary catalyst for true efficacy; and a science, because structured, disciplined thinking and behavior is the surest pathway to desired resolution.

Nevertheless, seeking necessary capital in the wrong places, even for such a good cause, is always unproductive and surely results in longer delays and imminent bankruptcy for that decision. The supposed pursuit itself becomes a needless waste of already scarce time and money.

Also, ceremonially feeling sorry for the affected “less financially fortunate” property owners usually backfires too. This can be called the paradox of misguided pity, where the pitied “poor” are robbed of their personal dignity in being responsible for their own deleterious defecation on the public’s property. Consequentially, the needed construction is never sufficiently funded due to this divisive distraction. Such Isolated incidence of financial insufficiency should be quietly cross-subsidized, when necessary, and move on.

Accordingly, when we finally are forced, by eroding property values, to acknowledge and act upon long-standing lake problems, or forgone considerations and delayed resolutions (such as with sewer system installations around Chautauqua Lake), the consequences of delay can already be very severe. Late solutions are usually much more difficult and far more costly to reconcile, due to a greater aggregate accumulation of the deplorable base residuals in the process.

A well-planned analysis; like that already established in the “Integrated Sewage Management Plan for Chautauqua Lake,” is where proactive planning and preemptive resolutions are wisely found to be accordingly activated.  However, only prompt and decisive action thereafter, portends lasting positive outcomes and real benefits. Delays will invite further costly delays, as potential funding sources themselves perpetually require more expensive “updated analyses,” until once accessible capital sources find alternative priorities for their monies, or these sources simply lose interest altogether.  Time really is money, after all!

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to admit that necessary, but previously postponed or avoided, action is largely due to our own indecision and conscious choices of denial and delay, regardless of the known forthcoming penalties. Noteworthy changes, from established familiar circumstances, are usually difficult to accept and to mobilize for implementation.  We often feel a false sense of security and ownership within the familiar problems, even when we know that a forthcoming “tipping point” of consequences is at risk just ahead.

Tipping points are situational junctures where once modest and treatable problems or risks (like fresh water degradation) are taken lightly, or disregarded.  The mounting incipient consequences of inaction are rather subtle and uncontested until, one day, all at once (it seems), they now palpably exist within a wider consensus that a very serious, highly-problematic, condition actually does exist. The wider affected public finally catches on to reality, and wants to know why something concrete wasn’t previously done by elected but detached legislators!

Henceforth, as in this case, the once “clean lake” has already passed an unamenable “tipping point,” with correspondingly untenable expenses to attempt any sufficient remediation at any price, now or ever.  Ecological destruction is now complete, with real permanent, practical consequences for the entire surrounding area outweighing potential remedies. It’s now widely known that, the once beloved Lake is becoming a large insect infested swamp, or at best an “evolved wetland.”

According to the forgoing proposition, finding the necessary capital, to soon begin concerted redemption of Chautauqua Lake is paramount. However, looking (or even hoping) for sufficient grant money from Albany or Washington is probably ill fated. Rolland Kidder has already clearly attested that buried sewers are also “buried politically” and invisible in Albany (Post Journal, 12/25/16). Also, New York State and Federal finances are already in, or near bankruptcy. With all the other lavish “visible” promises the Governor is making, the chances for sizable grants for and “invisible” sewer are at best scant, no matter what his “promises.”

Fortunately, due to the wide appreciation and respect for both Chautauqua Institution, and for the local history of, His Honor, the late Robert Jackson, etc., Chautauqua County should have some associated prominent “creditworthiness.” This can be culturally leveraged to underwrite large capital pools of municipal bonds, pledged for repayment by beneficial property owners, with associated sewer tap-in fees and quarterly connection charges. These user fees and payments are a normal and expected part of virtually every public sewer installation around the country. Safe, clean water, and preserved property values are the redemptive benefits here.

Current interest rates are uncommonly low and demand for secured, tax-favored income investments is very high within the US and worldwide. Acting promptly to structure bond issues now can be richly rewarded for many cleaner lake-water years of pleasure and value, well into the future, for a proportionally affordable price, amortized for decades into the future.

Chautauqua County Executive, Vince Horrigan has recently acknowledged (Post-Journal, 12/30/16) the successful capital funding of both the North Chautauqua County Water District and the Chautauqua County Landfill expansion with “bonds.” Whether these were municipals or simply “low interest” bonds from financiers or banks, the same justification applies for existing sewer upgrades and new sewer additions, to better secure the future value of both Chautauqua Lake and Chautauqua County as a whole. Business and residential property owners will begin to benefit from the prospect of a cleaner and safer Chautauqua Lake, as soon as the first increment of construction money is secured and required sewer construction actually begins.

Municipal “revenue” bonds are a strategic funding tool, for they are a self-sustaining revenue resource. User payments from property-owner beneficiaries of the sewer system secure the bond owner’s capital with earnings. It’s a safe closed system. These bonds are self-liquidating over time, with an amortized payment stream scaled to each sewer subscriber’s usage; while protecting the public, and their own sanitation and property values moving forward.

Even if a capital grant does become available, from any agency of the government, it will help Chautauqua County to better jump-start additional needed sewer construction, but yet be insufficient to cover the total revenue needs anyway. It’s a prospective “plum” of supplemental value, returned from previous confiscatory taxes imposed.

There will still be a need for additional locally generated capital, with local user-pricing of sewer services necessary to sustain the needed sewer availability and capacity going forward.

Preemptive sewer construction had best begin soon to get a serious start on saving Chautauqua Lake, with sewer upgrades and additions, before the risks of a tipping point gets more severe and the resulting costs of necessary but delayed mitigation spiral.   We’re going to get whatever we’re willing (or not willing) to pay for.  “There’s no free lunch.”

Frank R. Witgen is a Mayville resident.


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