Political News

Capitol Watch: Sewage spills draw attention

Posted August 26

— In New York state government news, sewage overflows in Niagara Falls highlight a problem that plagues communities across the state, a longtime Assemblyman is retiring mid-term after 42 years in office and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is nominating former Syracuse Mayor Matthew Driscoll to run the Thruway Authority.

A look at stories making news:

BLACK WATER

A discharge from the Niagara Falls wastewater plant drew international attention because it spread a smelly, black plume visible to tourists visiting the falls on a sunny day. But environmental groups say hundreds of sewage overflows occur around the state and deserve just as much attention.

Travis Proulx, of Environmental Advocates of New York, says nearly 336 million gallons of sewage discharges into New York waterways have been reported since mid-May. Most happen when it's raining, so nobody's there to see it.

"We need urgency for every discharge, not just those that may undermine tourism," Proulx said.

Commissioner Basil Seggos of the Department of Environmental Conservation said water quality around the state is a top priority of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed the $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act this spring to help local governments pay for infrastructure upgrades.

Seggos said the department is holding those who violate clean water standards accountable with enforcement actions from Amsterdam and Albany to Buffalo and Depew.

"We're hitting not just the big issues but also minding the statewide problem of water infrastructure," Seggos said.

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FARRELL FAREWELL

Assemblyman Herman "Denny" Farrell Jr. says he'll retire from his Manhattan seat Sept. 5 to spend more time with his family and deal with unspecified health issues. The 85-year-old Democrat was first elected in 1974, and has chaired the Assembly Ways and Means Committee for the past 23 years.

New York County Democratic leaders will select his replacement because Farrell's retirement takes effect just a week before state primaries. Farrell supports his chief of staff, the Rev. Al Taylor, to succeed him.

Taylor announced his bid for the seat Tuesday and has received endorsements from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Sen. Brian Benjamin and others.

Taylor says he'll fight for good schools, stronger rent laws, better public transportation and social, economic and criminal justice for all citizens.

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THRUWAY LEADER

Former Syracuse Mayor Matthew Driscoll is Cuomo's pick to run the New York state Thruway Authority. He's joining the agency at a key time with the opening of the first span of the Gov. Mario Cuomo Bridge over the Hudson River.

Driscoll, currently the state's Department of Transportation commissioner, will be nominated executive director of the agency that runs the 570-mile Thruway system. He'll replace Bill Finch, who's been acting executive director for two years.

Driscoll's nomination must be confirmed by the state Senate after the Legislature convenes in January. Meanwhile, the Thruway's board of directors is expected to name him acting executive director.

In the Department of Transportation, Driscoll's role will be taken over by the agency's chief of staff, Cathy Calhoun, who will serve as acting commissioner.

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