Lawsuit over Manor’s sewer system could have ‘material impact’ on village finances, say Democrats

Editor’s note: This statement was submitted by the Democratic candidates for the Village of Pelham Manor Board of Trustees. Ramsey McGrory is running for mayor and Andrea Ziegelman and Lance Koonce are running for trustee. The candidates are also on the Pelham Manor Forward lines.

During the March 2 debate between candidates for the Board of Trustees for the Village of Pelham Manor, candidate for mayor Ramsey McGrory raised a lawsuit that the Village has been facing since November 2015 involving discharges from the Village’s sanitary sewer system, and the potential that a settlement or loss in that litigation could have a material impact on the Village’s finances.

As the discussion about this lawsuit during the debate was limited, we would like to provide additional details that have not been provided by the current Board of Trustees.

Pelham Manor was sued in November 2015 by Save the Sound for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act resulting from sewage discharge into the Sound. However, to the best of our knowledge the Board of Trustees made no mention of this lawsuit at Board meetings for over four years, until April 2020, when it was mentioned in passing when a resident posed a question about litigation expenses.

While the Board has explained its silence by saying it cannot comment on ongoing litigation, the Board discusses non-confidential details of other litigation, such as its lawsuit to block the construction of a cellular monopole.

For background, before the Save the Sound lawsuit was filed, Westchester County was already facing potential enforcement by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) for alleged violations of the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System related to problems with the New Rochelle Sewer District, of which Pelham Manor is a part.  As a result of a consent order, Pelham Manor and the other three municipalities in the New Rochelle Sewer District entered into agreements with Westchester County for sanitary sewer remediation.

In the lawsuit, among other defenses, Pelham Manor and these municipalities argue that as a result of the agreements with the county, the Save the Sound lawsuit is moot. Save the Sound argues that even if the municipalities have been engaged in remediation under agreements with the county, the Clean Water Act claims remain. Pelham Manor’s recent motion to dismiss can be found here; Save the Sound’s opposition can be found here.

This issue is important because sewer remediation efforts can constitute a very large expense for a municipality.  Port Chester authorized a 5-year, $15 million sewer remediation program (and settled with Save the Sound).  Rye Brook settled in January, agreeing to pay $100,000 for attorney’s fees for Plaintiff, perform remedial work on its sewer system at an undisclosed cost.

If the Save the Sound lawsuit is not dismissed and ultimately resulted in a requirement of remediation, penalties or attorneys fees, this could be on top of existing sanitary sewer remediation efforts.  (Sewer remediation work done in Pelham Manor since 2015 has been the result of agreement with Westchester County, not the pending lawsuit, but it bears repeating that this remediation was done under the threat of enforcement, to address accumulated problems.)

We believe that the Board of Trustees should be transparent with residents about material litigation that might pose financial risks to the Village, even if it cannot discuss all details.

Excerpts from Board minutes from 2015-2020 referencing sewer remediation and the Save the Sound lawsuit can be found here.  We also have created a page on our website that discusses this issue.