Today, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced $150 million in funding for the City of Mount Vernon to fix its failing sewer infrastructure, marking unprecedented state action to combat an environmental justice crisis less than a 30-minute drive from New York City.
This extraordinary action reflects the urgent need to restore basic sanitation services to Mount Vernon residents. For two decades, raw sewage has gushed into Mount Vernon residents’ homes near daily due to the city’s failing sewage infrastructure. Mount Vernon’s sewers are composed of 100-year-old clay pipes that are brittle and crack easily with age.
Over the past 20 years, this deteriorating sewer system has plagued residents, causing daily backups of human waste in their toilets, bathtubs, and sinks. When NRDC Board Member Catherine Flowers and Chief Counsel Mitch Bernard visited Mount Vernon last year, they learned that some Mount Vernon residents have even been forced to spend thousands of dollars on equipment to pump waste out of their homes with a wet-vac, or to stay with friends and family as they wait for the overflowing sewage to subside. These horrific conditions have taken a significant toll on the physical and mental health of at least 1,000 families who are forced to live with the waste, the odors, and the uncertainty as to when a sewage backup might invade their homes again.
The sewer crisis facing Mount Vernon residents is an environmental justice issue at heart. Mount Vernon is a small city in Westchester County located just north of the Bronx; while Westchester County is majority-white (Black residents make up only 16.7 percent of the county’s population), Mount Vernon is approximately 65 percent Black. Mount Vernon is also the second most densely populated city in New York State and one of the most densely populated cities in the country. But its sewer infrastructure has not kept up with this growth. The recurring sewage backups that Mount Vernon residents now experience are the culmination of both a decades-long underinvestment in sewer infrastructure, and a longstanding history of systemic racism forcing low-income communities and people of color to deal with disproportionate environmental harms.
The Governor made this landmark announcement at Mount Vernon City Hall, where she was surrounded by top city, county, state, and federal officials. She explained that the $150 million set aside for Mount Vernon includes $7 million for a program to restore reliable sewer service to the worst-hit area in Mount Vernon (intended to launch immediately), $8 million to fund other emergency repairs including lead pipe replacement, and $3 million for a pilot program to aid families with home repairs resulting from sewage backups. The funding will be administered through a three-way partnership between the City of Mount Vernon, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Westchester County.
Expressing her appreciation for this momentous step, Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard said, “This is what government working together for the people looks like, and we’re excited to be moving forward together on this monumental sewer project.”