MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. — Twenty years ago, Linda McNeil purchased her dream home in Mount Vernon — her dream didn’t last long.
“It smells like a sewer,” she said of her house. “My grandchildren call this the poop house; it smells really bad.”
For McNeil, her issues began just months after she moved in. It remains a problem today.
One hundred miles of sewage lines in Mount Vernon are in various states of disrepair, according to City Hall. When the neighborhood sewers back up, human waste starts to flood out of McNeil’s toilet and across her basement.
“I have pictures where the bathtub is literally filled with waste,” she said.
Modernizing Mount Vernon’s sewage lines would cost and estimated $200 million — money the cash-strapped city doesn’t have.
“It’s always been impacting our residents, but that impact is spreading; it’s impacting people’s health,” Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard said.
Just last week, Patterson-Howard declared a state of emergency over a different yet similar public health crisis: the city’s financial leader failed to pay for maintenance of city public works vehicles, police cars and fire trucks, according to the mayor.
Monday, Patterson-Howard toured the city’s crumbling sewage infrastructure with Vice Chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council Catherine Coleman Flowers.
“I’m shocked,” Coleman Flowers said. “I’ve seen this in rural communities. I’ve seen this in poor communities, but now I’m seeing it among people that are middle class — but the one thing they have in common is that they’re marginalized, and they’re people of color.”
Coleman Flowers believes addressing Mount Vernon’s sewage issues are a matter of environmental justice.
“We need to call the Army Corps of Engineers and have immediate relief,” she said.
Patterson-Howard said she hopes that if President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill is passed, Mount Vernon will receive badly needed funds to address the decaying sewers.