It’s not every day you read an article on the front page of The New York Times at the same moment you are watching it unfold out your front window. After a blast in East Harlem earlier this month killed eight people, there has been a heightened scrutiny of the aging gas delivery system.
For the last couple of weeks, Central Hudson workers have been sniffing around my block trying to pinpoint a leak. After a number of test drillings and readings in the street, they disappeared for a few days. But the smell came back and so did Central Hudson, in the middle of the night. Today there was a full crew from Precision Pipeline Solutions, based in New Windsor, busy digging holes and replacing parts of the main street line and all of a neighbor’s connecting line.
One of the Precision workers told me that a good portion of Beacon, and for that matter, most of the older towns in the Hudson Valley, consisted mostly of aging iron pipe, some that was 100 years old. In addition to responding to suspected leaks, the gas company has plans to start replacing the iron with plastic pipe, a project that will no doubt take many years and cost a lot of money. I can only imagine how much the little adventure on my street that unfolded in the past few weeks ended up costing—and this was for service to a single customer.
One problem that increases costs is a lack of good maps of the infrastructure hidden below the streets. The first attempt to find where the service pipe left the main was off by a bit, and another hole had to be excavated. The same problem plagues repairs of water and sewer pipes.
With the economy essentially flat-lining and energy costs creeping upward, the prospect of municipalities becoming flush enough to keep up with all the work that is needed on the various systems that supply us with the comforts of home is unlikely. In fact, it’s apparent that we are falling farther behind all the time at all levels, from national infrastructure to roads and sewers in the smallest burgs.
The costs of repairing decaying infrastructure are paid in different ways—tax increases, new taxes like the energy tax, and increases in utility rates. But the bills are all sent to the same people: us. That’s why, while it may make sense for the City to encourage renovation and infill projects in the central business areas, encouraging large new development projects in our city when we can’t even afford to maintain what we already have seems shortsighted. After a certain point, the idea that adding more infrastructure will help keep our taxes low is really little more than a pyramid scheme.
Large developments need to be looked at carefully for many reasons, including the impacts on infrastructure and services. For example, the proposed development at 248 Tioranda Avenue, according to the developer’s own accounting, is a break-even deal. In other words, the City of Beacon will pay out in maintenance and services the same amount it will receive in new tax revenue. When you factor in quality of life issues such as more traffic and condo-like rental buildings on the Fishkill Creek, how does Beacon and its citizens come out ahead? And what are the chances that the project, already at net zero, could slip into the red, whether at day one or year ten?
Update: The next day on the way to work I encountered another Precision Pipeline crew working to fix a gas line. I took a photo but did not have time to ask what exactly they were doing:
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