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Mount Vernon To Take Action On Sewage-Filled Hutchinson River Amid Threats Of Fines

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Threats of heavy fines from the federal government have prompted action on a long-term pollution problem affecting a local river and the Long Island Sound.

As CBS2's Lou Young reported, wildlife such as Canada geese are under siege along the Hutchinson River in Mount Vernon, where an open-sewer pollution source is about to get some much-needed attention.

"We cannot have our waterways look like this," Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas as he held a Ball jar full of opaque, dark brown water. "This is something we can no longer tolerate."

In truth, the sewage discharge from Mount Vernon has been tolerated for the best part of a decade, as first state, then federal regulators tried to get the city to fix its leaky system.

Last week, attorneys from the Environmental Protection Agency told Mount Vernon that their patience has run out. Environmentalists are cheering.

"The gun is to their head. They can't kick the can down the road any farther, so the repairs to the sewers are going to happen," said Tracy Brown of the group Save the Sound.

The exposure is $31,000 a day for violations that go back eight years – a potential $90 million hit. Even bitter political opponents inside Mount Vernon government are seeing the light on this one.

"It has to get done. It has to get done," said Mount Vernon Deputy Comptroller Jaevon Boxwell. "We're going to do it."

Now, Mayor Thomas is trying to up the ante with an ambitious plan to develop parks and water access to the soon-to-be-cleaner river. Again, environmentalists are gushing.

"The Hutchinson River which is in the Bronx and six cities in Westchester – there is not one place of public access," said Eleanor Ray of the Hutchinson River Restoration Project.

Mount Vernon is directly north of the Bronx, and Co-Op City can be seen from the distance at Mount Vernon's Hutchinson Riverfront. The site that the mayor envisions as a destination waterfront is now surrounded by dumpsters, detritus and overgrowth.

"Restaurants, shops, retail activity, but most important, recreational activity," Mayor Thomas said.

The plan calls for riverwalks, kayaking and even swimming in the river. The city is hoping to get state help down the road, and is looking for private investors who might see profit in what is now an apocalyptic looking waterfront.

The first step of the project is a $2 million survey of the aging sewage system to outline the extent of needed repairs.

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