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Molinaro discusses wastewater improvements in Athens

ATHENS — U.S. Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-19, visited the village on Tuesday to discuss infrastructure improvements to the municipality’s wastewater treatment plant.


Molinaro announced in March funds allocated through the 2024 federal appropriations bills to go toward funding community development projects in the 19th Congressional District.


The village received $1.25 million in funding through the bills, which was requested by Molinaro through the member-designated projects initiative.


Through the initiative, introduced in 2022, members of Congress are allowed to request funding for projects within the communities they represent, according to the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.


The sewer portion of the project is estimated to cost the village $3.2 million, and upgrades to the drinking water plant will cost roughly $1.1 million, Mayor Amy Serrago said Tuesday.


The village secured roughly $900,000 in funding for the drinking water plant through the state’s Environmental Facilities Corporation, Serrago said.


“We’re in good shape there,” she said. “The sewer end of things was a lot harder to fund, so we’re super grateful to the congressman.”


Some improvements to the village’s wastewater system have already begun, Serrago said.


“Catch basin work is happening on Second Street to keep some of our stormwater from going where it’s not supposed to go, so we’ve done a bunch of that,” she said. “They [village Department of Public Works] did some drainage work to divert some water that was hitting our municipal building. Some of these things have already been in the works, which is good because people see it happening, and they know we mean business.”


The village has had times when water flowing into the wastewater system was elevated, putting pressure on the entire system, Serrago said.


“It puts a lot of stress on the community and the infrastructure that we already have, so more of it degrades,” she said. “My thought on this is if we don’t have solid infrastructure, we can’t go anyplace else.”


The infrastructure problems also make it harder to attract new business owners, Serrago said.


“If what’s underneath our feet isn’t doing the job, we’re never going to be able to turn to a business owner and say, ‘this is the place that you should bring your business, we’re a growing community, and we are going to support you from the ground up,’” she said. “To me, it all starts underneath us.”


The last major updates to the wastewater treatment system occurred in the early 2010s. In 2019, the village added slip lining, where a new lining is added to existing pipes to prevent collapse, to some of the pipes, Serrago said.


Incremental repairs on the wastewater infrastructure have been done as needed, Serrago said.


“We’re like often just doing things catch as catch can,” she said. “There’s a crisis, we go into crisis mode and we fix it. That’s not really a way to move forward.”


The federal funding will help the village slip line more pipes, or replace them, Serrago said.


“We have slip-lined quite a bit of it [sewer pipes],” she said. “This money will help us fill in those gaps, and there’s also pipes that just straight up need replacing. There’s no slip lining that’s gonna help them, and that’s hard to get funded.”


The village is hoping to have the improvements completed by sometime next year, Serrago said.


Smaller municipalities, such as Athens, often do not have the capacity to fund major infrastructure improvement projects, Molinaro said.


“Athens has sent more than $1.2 million to the federal government, and it’s good that we could redirect back for this purpose,” he said. “I know that it’ll enhance the system, which likely encourages both quality and sustained economic growth, but also drives down costs. The consumers, the individual property owners, would have to shoulder in their bills the cost of a $3-$4 million project. That’s not possible, and so what the mayor and the village has done is sort of put together a plan that kind of incrementally gets the work done while leaning on others to try to drive the cost down, and we just happen to be part of that.”


One of the best parts of redirecting federal dollars to these projects is seeing the results, Molinaro said.


“You go to Washington, you vote on stuff, you argue, and you never see the outcome of what you voted on for years,” he said. “This, we get to see it. Like next year, there are going to be holes in the ground, people are going to be digging, and I can say we helped to do that.”

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