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Cost overruns on project to help clean lake

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Cost overruns on project to help clean lake
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It's one of those rare cases where cost overruns don't lead to widespread investigations and recriminations. Onondaga County leaders aren't happy that costs on a major project are running much higher than planned, but YNN's Bill Carey says the county may be prepared to accept those higher costs because of what the project will help accomplish.

ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- Onondaga County legislators don't have to look far to be reminded of the challenges of Onondaga Lake. Lining the wall of their legislative chambers are picture portraying the lake's history, including the years industry spent pouring raw sewage into the waterway. Pollution that eventually led to a federal demand for a clean-up.

A few blocks away, crews are putting the finishing touches on a multi-million dollar project that collects overflow from storm and sewage pipes during storms, then stores the material until it can be safely sent on to a sewage treatment plant. The plant meets a federal judge's order that the overflow be substantially cutback by the end of this year.

But while the county is happy to be meeting the deadline, it has fallen far short on meeting cost projections.

From the start, there were cost overruns. Even the initial bid on the project was $9 million above the county's projections. Now, lawmakers are preparing for hearings on additional overruns that bring the red ink to about $20 million.

"Was there anything that we could have done differently to help prevent some of these overruns?" asked Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon.

Lawmakers, though, admit all of the overruns were not unexpected.

And there's another reason why millions in cost overruns are still not causing that much concern. It all dates back to the decision to build this facility instead of a sewage treatment plant. Before all the cost overruns were factored in, the collection system that was built was projected to cost $35 million less than that original proposal.

"So, on balance, the cost savings is only going to be $15 million. Is that bad news? It certainly is bad news and we're very disappointed by it. But the first thing for the public to understand is that still, it was not a mistake to go in this direction. We're still $15 million dollars ahead of the game," said Onondaga County Legislator Michael Plochocki.

And, in the long run, the project does bring the county a bit closer to the goal of reviving Onondaga Lake.

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