October 15, 2004

Study: Sewage is among many creek concerns

Group threatens suit over leaks

By Dan Shapley
Poughkeepsie Journal

There are more than 100 problems on the Fishkill Creek, according to a volunteer group that assessed the creek from Union Vale to Beacon, where it spills into the Hudson River.

The Fishkill Creek Watershed Committee recently released a report summarizing its findings.

The most pressing of the problems -- raw sewage leaking from pipes in Beacon -- is to be addressed by the city and the state departments of environmental conservation and transportation. The Garrison-based environmental group Riverkeeper has threatened legal action if the leaks are not fixed promptly.

The DOT awarded an $8.2 million Route 9D road-paving project Sept. 30 to Intercounty Paving Associates of Hackettstown, N.J., which has begun preliminary work, spokeswoman Colleen McKenna said.

The 1.2-mile paving project will continue until June 2006. The contractor is to use a snake-like camera to identify the sewer problem and devise a temporary fix before it replaces the sewer line, McKenna said.

Health issue

Raw sewage can introduce bacteria and viruses into the water that can make people and wildlife ill. It can also act as unwanted fertilizer for algae that can ultimately cut off oxygen in the water, making it inhospitable to life.

But the 26-mile Fishkill Creek's problems are not limited to sewage leaks in Beacon. "It's not pristine," said Rick Oestrike, chairman of the Fishkill Creek Watershed Committee. "It definitely has some impacts, but a lot of the creek is in pretty good shape. However, there are specific spots and some stretches that are pretty bad, particularly in the lower part of the creek."

As part of the national Stream Walk program, 37 volunteers with the Fishkill Creek Watershed Committee identified 104 impairments at 55 sites along 16 miles of the creek. Volunteers put in hundreds of hours and earned the 2004 Outstanding Project Award from the New York State Association of Environmental Management Councils.

The impairments were measured by observation, not chemical or biological analysis. They ranged from litter to derelict dams. These dams are no longer in use, but still block the migrations of fish and disrupt natural stream dynamics. There are at least 26 dams in the Fishkill Creek watershed.

Volunteers also found stream banks that had been cleared of native plants and trees in favor of grass. That can lead to erosion, destroy wildlife habitat and remove shade from the creek necessary to keep it cool enough for fish such as trout.

Many homes along the creek were found to have lawns stretching to the stream bank, as do town parks in Fishkill and Beekman.

There were numerous pipes jutting into the creek. Volunteers traced some to active pollutant discharge permits on file with the DEC, but others remain mysteries. In the 193-square-mile Fishkill Creek watershed, there are 89 active state pollution discharge permits.

Building, RVs cause damage

More than anything, there were signs of erosion. There were storm drains that had swept out gullies 20 feet deep, construction sites spilling mud and trails worn out by fishermen and recreational vehicles.

The Fishkill Creek Watershed Committee is working with the Dutchess County Environmental Management Council on a management plan for the watershed, the county's second largest.

The plan, to be completed by year's end, will inventory natural resources like wetlands, fish and wildlife; assess factors like water quality, land use and demographics; and make recommendations.

The committee plans to form an intermunicipal council of local governments.

"We're asking them to cooperate to protect the watershed for their own self-interest," Oestrike said. "The work we're doing is just laying the groundwork."

Shannon Martin Lafrance, R-Fishkill, called the committee's work "a great beginning." Lafrance is chairwoman of the county Legislature's Environment & Community Development Committee, which was briefed recently on the ongoing efforts in the watershed.

"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for the residents of Dutchess County to be able to see the resources we have and also what their source waters are, in terms of their potable drinking water," Lafrance said.

On the Web

To read more about the Fishkill Creek and the results of the Stream Walk program, visit the Fishkill Creek Watershed Committee Website.

Copyright 2005, Poughkeepsie Journal. Reprinted with Permission.
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