In 2015, four neighboring communities in Ontario and Seneca counties were presented with a challenge; the towns of Geneva, Phelps, Waterloo and Junius each needed to supply water to  residents and businesses in critical corridors. Area wells showed increasing levels of contaminants, and while the area was ripe for economic development with nearby access to the New York State Thruway, lack of available water was a strong deterrent.

The best solution involved innovation and collaboration. By joining forces, the involved communities could demonstrate a unified, regional approach. This garnered support from then-state Sen. Mike Nozzolio, who applauded the collaboration and provided state funding in the form of a $50,000 grant to each of the four communities.

Town Supervisors Mary Luckern (Geneva, later succeeded by Mark Venuti), Gary Westfall (Waterloo, later succeeded by Don Trout), Norm Teed (Phelps) and Greg Wadhams (Junius, later succeeded by Ernie Brownell) worked with their respective boards and provided strong leadership, convincing residents that the opportunity to work together with neighboring towns could create critical infrastructure at a significant savings. Each town could benefit by sharing manpower and equipment, which would significantly reduce the cost of construction. Material costs would be lowered through the stronger purchasing power achieved by placing collective orders. An added benefit to the entire community would be the enhanced potential to market the affected corridors to new businesses and investors as “ready for development.”

The Four-Town Water & Economic Development Initiative was formalized, and the project design began in 2016. The first step was to establish water districts for the respective towns and calculate necessary cost estimates.  Once the districts were formed, the next task was to complete surveying and continue into design. A significant focus was placed on project coordination, which included phasing construction, carefully staging material deliveries and assisting the towns’ water or highway teams in coordinating staff and equipment utilization, so normal operations of their departments could continue without interruption.  MRB Group coordinated design approvals from several entities, including the New York State Departments of Transportation, Health, and Environmental Conservation, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and involved railroads. In September 2017, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in a central location within the improvement area, celebrating the start of construction. Town supervisors were joined by their board members, staffs and crews.  They gathered their residents together with MRB Group, NY State Assembly and Senate Representatives, County Chairmen and fellow Supervisors, along with officials from the Regional Economic Development Council and area Chambers of Commerce. Local media were present and the event was featured on the front page of the Finger Lakes Times (regional newspaper), hailing it a “unique” shared-services approach and an economic development opportunity.

Phased through multiple budget and construction years, the project involves approximately 15.5 miles of water main installation and is currently 50 percent complete. The final installation is planned for 2019, when the village of Waterloo will begin to supply the four towns with drinking water, via a new pump station.

In addition to the 300 households and businesses, and more than 800 residents critical for commercial investment who will be served by the new water extension, the entire region will soon

$2,500,000 was saved by utilizing Town workforce’s be able to attract investors to prime commercial real estate, identified as a target area for development by the Regional Economic Development Council due to its proximity to the NYS Thruway, the city of Geneva, and the Waterloo Premium Outlets (Mall).  If completed using a conventional approach with contractor labor, this project could have required more than $6 million. Collective, the four involved communities will save nearly $2.5 million. The towns’ innovative shared services approach instead created a model project, demonstrating that communities can successfully work together to make improvements, sharing talent, equipment, and project administration to save money for residents.

The key to the project’s success is strength in leadership.  The town supervisors of Phelps, Geneva, Waterloo and Junius led their boards, residents, and public works teams with a clear vision of what could be achieved by working together.