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Report: Auburn's sewage treatment plant cannot accept gas drilling wastewater


Auburn City Councilor Terry Cuddy answers questions during a press conference on Thursday
concerning gas drilling wastewater with Walter Hang, left, president of Ithaca firm Toxics Targeting.

AUBURN | A report from an engineering firm has concluded that the city of Auburn's sewage treatment plant cannot accept wastewater produced by natural gas drilling.

The report is the latest chapter of the city's gas drilling wastewater saga dating back several years. In August 2012, the Auburn City Council had authorized engineering firm GHD Consulting Services, Inc. to analyze the city's sewage treatment facility.

This report was authorized after members of the Auburn City Council voted to rescind a ban on treating wastewater produced by natural gas drilling, or hydrofracking, in March 2012. The state Department of Environmental Conservation required the city to conduct the report before the plant could accept any further wastewater of that nature, according to City Manager Doug Selby.

One and a half years later, GHD came to its conclusion in the report finalized in March, but released to the public on Thursday. The report concluded that the plant could not accept the gas drilling wastewater because the plant does not have the capacity to handle the resulting excessive chloride levels.

At Thursday's council meeting, Selby said levels of chloride are already present in the water that is treated at the plant. The wastewater treatment plant accepts other industrial waste products including materials from the McQuay facility and Nucor Steel, among others, according to the report.

The firm concluded the additional gas drilling wastewater would elevate those chloride levels to levels that would disrupt the biological treatment process used at the plant, according to GHD.

"At this point, staff considers this to be the conclusion of that effort to look at taking gas well drilling water back into the city system," Selby said Thursday.

Councilor Terry Cuddy, who advocated against treating gas drilling wastewater several years ago, said the report reasserts his past convictions concerning the gas drilling wastewater issue.

Cuddy was on hand for a press conference at City Hall on Thursday prior to the council meeting along with Walter Hang, president of Ithaca firm Toxics Targeting, Inc., to discuss the report's conclusions. Cuddy said there is a "potential" he could reintroduce the ban to council in the future.

"I want to make sure there is full consideration (by the council) before our next move," he said.

The ban was instated in 2011 at a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Michael Quill and past councilors Gilda Brower and Thomas McNabb in favor.

When two new councilors were seated in 2012 to replace McNabb and Brower, the ban was then lifted at a vote of 3-2 during a meeting where 30 people participated in the public to be heard. Councilor Peter Ruzicka and past councilors Bill Graney and Matt Smith were in favor.

Hang was critical of the council's decision to rescind what he called a "landmark" moratorium, claiming Auburn was, at the time, the first municipality in the country to instate such a ban.

He referenced the approximately $815,000 the city made in revenue after accepting approximately 16.4 million gallons of gas drilling wastewater from companies primarily in the Southern Tier.

On Thursday, Selby reported companies Auburn had dealt with in the past have likely found "other avenues" for business and staff is unsure they would come back.

"When the majority changed and they rescinded the ban, it was only because they wanted the money," Hang said.

Ruzicka, who was absent from Thursday's meeting, could not be reached for comment.