Geneva Believer recently received an email from Councilor Ken Camera, who criticized the “inaccurate depiction” and “unfortunate caricatures” of City Manager Matt Horn in the August 13 2017 blog article “Marsh Creek Spill Update: Local Scientist Says, “Don’t Worry!”
While it’s not unprecendented for the Geneva Believer newsroom to receive correspondence from a city official, the August 21st email marked the first time a City Councilor felt it necessary to pen an email to defend the reputation and actions of Horn.
Subject: Marsh Creek Spill
From: “R Ken Camera”
Date: Aug 21, 2017 9:46:52 AM
I have been gathering information about the recent March Creek sewage spill that occurred in early August.
During my info gathering, it was suggested to me that I read your “report” on your GB website.
If I was to characterize what happened in a nut shell it would be as follows:
There was a catastrophic failure of a pipe in the NW pumping station that is less than 4 years old. The SCADA and alarms worked and the back up plan was implemented and pumping and alternative piping was installed while repairs were undertaken. Unfortunately, shortly after the backup was installed, it failed as well and the sewage overflowed our retention well and flowed into Marsh Creek. Less than 5,000 gallons of raw sewage were discharged to Marsh Creek of which a much smaller amount actually made it to shore of Seneca Lake (some was absorbed and some will eventually make it to the lake later on when we have some rainy days). The City observed the DEC protocols for notification and somehow from that no advisories were passed on to the public in a timely fashion.
The reason this happened in the first place was not the result of negligence. City Manager’s response focused on his assessment of the danger to public health which he assumed was foremost on the public’s mind. While it may have been true that the impact was negligible, the tone of the article in the FLTimes suggested that Matt was somewhat indifferent and casual about what actually happened and you went to town on this notion with a very inaccurate depiction of his attitude and perspective and unfortunate caricatures.
Are there things to learn from this mishap? Of course there are.
I will be asking City staff about what these lessons are. I am pretty sure that Matt is going to be providing a report on the break and spill and will also provide some recommendations on how they are going to fortify our inspection and monitoring program and how to improve and harden our response and backup systems for protecting the public health and safeguarding lake water quality. You know Matt better than this and could have figured a better way to tell this story. These are very important jobs that the City takes seriously.
Re: Marsh Creek Spill
To: “R Ken Camera”
Date: Aug 27, 2017 4:21:02 PM
Thank you for reading the blog.
Your summary of the events leading up to and including the Marsh Creek spill sound accurate to me. I was able to gather and report on most of the same details on genevabeliever.com on the Wednesday following the spill, so there’s really nothing “new” in your “report.”
I am greatly disappointed at your description of the event and concerns about the sewage reaching the lakefront.
Marsh Creek runs through the heart of Ward 6. While Marsh Creek isn’t generally used for recreation, it’s not uncommon to see local folks fishing in the Creek, or children or pets playing nearby. On Saturday August 5th, a little more than 24 hours after the spill, a crowd of 100+ people were gathered at Gulvin Park with their children and pets for a softball game/tournament. They had no idea that just a few feet away, raw sewage was flowing towards the lake.
Like the City Manager, your comments don’t even acknowledge the existence of the residents of Ward 6 and whether the spill might have created any hazards for them. You are considered to be the “environmental Councilor” here in Geneva, and while your work related to the landfills, solid waste, and the lake are highly commendable, your complete lack of concern for the people of Ward 6, and your hesitance to boldly stand up for the residents of the Foundry neighborhood, are unfortunate.
The fact that a ‘catastrophic failure’ happened at the WWTP merely five years after multi-million dollar upgrades is of great concern to the taxpayers of the city. Will the contractor be held accountable for the failure? What about all the other egregious discharges of contamination from the WWTP between 2012 and 2016?
If you go to this link, you can see there have been numerous discharges into the lake. Thankfully, the number has declined since 2013.
When the upgrades were done, did the contract include any sort of guarantees from the contractor to provide refunds to the taxpayers for such failures? These are the things a Councilor should be concerned with, not defending a city manager from criticisms on a blog.
I agree that there are lessons to be learned, especially in light of what has happened with the Foundry. Yet, when faced with criticism about the Marsh Creek spill, you and the city manager have ignored the existence of the residents who live and play along the banks of the creek polluted with raw sewage, done the absolute minimum in terms of notification and then pointed the finger of blame at the DEC, and now with this email, decided that defending the reputation of your city manager is more important than defending the some of the most vulnerable people in our city.
It would appear that city government has learned nothing from the Foundry disaster.
While Matt deserves recognition for doing some great things for Geneva, his repeated obfuscation and eventual outright lying about the twenty-plus year failure of the city to warn residents of Foundry contamination have greatly damaged his reputation among people in the city. And rather than address his dishonesty and his insistence on protecting the reputations of people in city government instead of working to right the wrongs from the Foundry disaster, you have chosen instead to take time from your day to admonish me for criticizing him on the blog.
You say that I “know Matt better than that.” I think that I have a clear idea of Matt’s motives at this point, especially as it relates to those in a lower income bracket, and I think it’s time that Council also realizes that he’s not as infallible as you might think or claim.
Sadly, I have to assume that council and the city manager (with the exception of Councilor Gramling) will continue to care more about your reputations than you do about the people of the city who really need your advocacy.
Thanks again for reading the blog.
Ward 6 Resident