NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The City of New Rochelle is facing $37,500 a day in federal fines after tests by city engineers revealed that raw sewage has been flowing from a sanitary line emerging from Isaac E. Young Middle School directly into a storm drain running along Church Street and then into the Titus Mill Pond, a protected New York State Tidal Wetlands, in New Rochelle.
The Titus Mill Pond, a natural resource under protection of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, is located at the northeastern end of New Rochelle Harbor and flows into Long Island Sound.
No determination has yet been made as to how long the raw sewage has been entering the wetlands just across the street from Trinity School. The smell from the culvert where the drainage system connects to the wetlands reeks of fecal matter.
The matter became public Friday, during a meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education's District Wide Health and Safety Committee. New Rochelle City Manager Charles B. Strome, a co-chair of the committee, raised concerns that after a formal referral to Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne in early June, the matter had still not been resolved.
Strome said that at one point, the New Rochelle Department of Public Works dispatched a crew to seal off the Isaac E. Young Middle School sewage drainage system to block off the raw sewage and avoid massive fines. Strome said he recalled the crew due to his concern over the damage that would result if the school's sewer system backed up into the school's toilets and drains.
New Rochelle City Engineer James Moran told Talk of the Sound that the illicit discharge and detection elimination is a requirement of the City’s stormwater pollution prevention permit and a long-standing EPA Administrative Order. The current EPA order is a renewal of a 2010 order that was issued after testing of 6 Long Island Sound city outfalls, including the Church Street outfall.
All EPA and NYSDEC clean water violations carry with them a $37,500 per violation per day fine but there is no fixed deadline to remediate an issue. Fines are often reduced during administrative hearings.
Sampling and testing is conducted at the outfalls and tracked within the City’s storm sewer system when high levels of pollutants of concern are detected. Systematic sampling and testing is conducted until a source of the offending pollutant is detected.
Moran said sampling in the Church Street outfall began in October 2015. Efforts to track down the source of the raw sewage continued until suspended during the winter months and were renewed in May 2016. Isaac Young was confirmed as the source through dye testing of the building’s plumbing on May 10 and by sewer video inspection and sampling at the point of discharge to the City’s storm system on May 12. Meetings were held with Aramark consultants, representing the Board of Education, to discuss a plan of action but efforts stalled as the end of the then-recently terminated Aramark contract approached.
A formal notice was sent by the City of New Rochelle on June 8 to Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne warning the District the City might terminate the school's access to the municipal storm water drainage system.
Strome said that after several weeks of not receiving a response to the June 8 letter, he went to see Osborne in person to express his concern that the issue had not been resolved.
Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration Jeff White explained that Osborne initially referred the matter to then-Director of Facilities, Arturo Rivera who, in turn, referred the matter to Andre Houle both Aramark employees. Houle did work with city officials and the custodial staff in May to run dye-tests to confirm that Isaac E. Young Middle School was, in fact, the source of the raw sewage.
Green dye dropped into toilets within the school was observed running through a storm drain just past centerfield on the softball field on Pelham Road near Church Street.
By June, however, with the Aramark facilities management contract set to expire in a matter of weeks, the Aramark consultants were largely AWOL.
"Rivera disappeared without notice in June," said White, explaining why the matter was not addressed sooner. White said Aramark personnel were largely absent in the weeks leading up to the termination of the Aramark contract which took effect on June 30th so the chain of command from Osborne to White to Rivera was broken when it reached Aramark. White assured the committee that school officials and their consultants are now working closely with city officials to resolve the problem.
Exactly when the school's sewage system was tied into the City's storm water system remains a mystery, but is under investigation.
Carl Thurnau, Director of Facilities for the New York State Education Department, who was present during the committee meeting, stated that it was not uncommon in New York State for older school buildings sanitary lines to be tied into storm water drainage systems that flow into large bodies of water like Long Island Sound or the Hudson River. He noted that prior to World War II, it was not an uncommon practice.
Thurnau was visiting New Rochelle in anticipation of starting work for the City School District of New Rochelle on September 12th as the new Facilities Director, replacing Rivera.
Isaac E. Young Middle School was constructed in 1928, suggesting the possibility that the school district has been dumping raw sewage into the Titus Mill Pond for just shy of 90 years. That appears unlikely.
A recently filed Building Condition Survey, required every five years under New York State law and, ironically, filed with Thurnau's office in Albany last month, indicated the drainage systems at Isaac E. Young Middle was marked "unsatisfactory" and that flooding was occurring in the school's cafeteria.
Over the past year, there has also been flooding at New Rochelle High School, as raw sewage has backed up into the school's kitchen area. The high school was originally constructed in 1926.
Five current New Rochelle schools were built before World War II, New Rochelle High School (1926), Isaac Young (1928), Jefferson (1930), Barnard (1931) and Webster (1930). Five New Rochelle schools were built after World War II: Davis (1952), Trinity (1955), Ward (1959), Albert Leonard (1960) and Columbus (1967).
The District-Wide Health and Safety Committee directed that the sewer system connections for all pre-war school's in the district be inspected. The committee also requested that the administration conduct a review of building plans and past work orders for Isaac E. Young Middle School in order to determine precisely when the connection was made between the school sewer system and the municipal storm drain and if it will be possible to hold anyone accountable for the current condition of the school's sanitary lines.
Asked during the meeting if it were possible that some contractor, in an effort to skimp on work and save money, might have done this work more recently than 90 years ago, Strome said such a person "would have to be lazy, dumb or evil."
Over the past two decades drainage systems at Isaac E. Young Middle Schools were built and maintained by companies owned and operated by Mauro Zonzini. His company, Zonzini Pipeline, was also a contractor for the City of New Rochelle. Talk of the Sound has previously reported on malfeasance involving Zonzini, his arrest on charges related to impersonating a police officer in Rye, NY, hundreds of thousands of dollars in phony invoices and providing thousands of dollars in free services to NRPD Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll, among many others.
Talk of the Sound has previously reported on an illegal wheelchair ramp and an improperly installed drainage system that runs outside the girl's locker room and down two flights of concrete stairs which often overflow and flood the stairs, causing significant erosion. Both were built by Mauro Zonzini under the direction of John Gallagher of Aramark over the past decade.
School property in the area in front of Isaac E. Young Middle School has been marked with green and red spray paint and pink flags indicating the course of underground sewers and drain lines, as the stage is set for repair work to get underway.
The spray-painted markings begin at the foot of the stairs where Zonzini built the improperly installed drainage system leading away from the girl's locker room.
While it is not certain how this happened, past experience suggests starting with Mauro Zonzini and John Gallagher of Aramark.
"We are working closely with city officials and our contractors," said Jeff White. "We hope to have the matter resolved prior to the start of the school year in early September."
Asked about potential criminal or civil liability, White was unequivocal.
"If we determine that the sewer line was deliberately, or negligently, connected to the municipal storm drain system, we will cooperate with any NYSDEC investigations and take all appropriate action to hold to account those responsible."