Social Media Fuels Controversy Over Binghamton-Johnson City Sewage

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) – Critics are using social media to attack safety practices at the Binghamton-Johnson City Joint Sewage Treatment Plant.

Gabe Altieri / WSKG Public Media

Binghamton-Johnson City sewer treatment plant. Gabe Altieri/WSKG

The facility, which is undergoing a $270 million upgrade, is Broome County’s main sewage treatment facility and serves multiple municipalities.

The project has faced delays and thousands of dollars in fines from the New York DEC. It’s unclear what the exact financial impact on ratepayers will be from that.

The DEC was also threatening a fine as high as $37,500-per-violation, per-day if certain work wasn’t complete by August 31st. Jerry Nystrom, who runs construction at the plant for Jacobs Engineering, said that deadline was met and the fines were never levied.

“I don’t know that they ever seriously were going to do that,” Nystrom said. “Because for the most part they’re trying to work with the village, the city and the board.”

Nystrom added such threats could resume if another deadline isn’t met. For example, t the deadline for completion of the plant project is April 1, 2020.

A leading critic of the construction project is Binghamton City Councilman Dan Livingston. A couple weeks ago, Livingston posted a Facebook video that claims to show dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide at the plant. Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless and poisonous gas.

Livingston claims the plant’s unsafe. But Nystrom disagrees. He said hydrogen sulfide is not uncommon in a plant like this and its up to plant managers to ensure workers follow proper safety protocols.

“And yet, Councilman Livingston seems to continue his tirade on this,” Nystrom said. “In fact, he has personally accused me of forcing people to go into an unsafe environment. I take great exceptions, exceptions to that”

Livingston countered that he’s just informing the public and speaking out in defense of plant workers. The councilman also defended his use of social media. Since Jacobs Engineering wants the job of managing the facility, Livingston felt he should avoid face-to-face communication.

“I believe it’s inappropriate for us to be interacting with bidders,” Livingston said. “Because that’s how I see them. I see them as bidders. Not just as our construction manager.”

A government committee is currently considering bids from Jacobs Engineering and other firms to manage the facility, which would still be owned by Binghamton and Johnson City.

Nystrom said Jacobs is a big company and he has nothing to do with the bidding process. Plus, he said he wouldn’t be involved in the plant’s management if Jacobs gets the job.