Lake George Mirror
As of mid-January, Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais was optimistic that state funding will arrive to offset the costs of a new $22 million wastewater treatment plant, which the Village must build if it is to fulfill the conditions of a legal settlement with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
Without additional state aid, village taxes will rise by more than 15%; sanitary charges for resorts will rise, on average, by 28%; the debt service on loans will cost $427,000 per year, depleting the Village’s reserve funds within five years.
“We would be broke,” said the Mayor.
Blais said Lake George Village is seeking $5 million in new grants, having already received $7.5 million for the construction project.
“With $5 million in grants, we can cut these projections in half. Taxes will still rise, but to a level that’s still affordable,” said Blais. “We said that as a small community, we needed a partner if we were to build the plant. We want the state to be that partner.”
Blais said that his conversations with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s staff and state legislators have given him confidence that Albany is aware of the importance of Lake George and its contribution to the state as a natural and recreational resource.
“What Albany may not have understood is that Lake George Village is not a wealthy community and is not to be confused with Millionaire’s Row,” said Blais. “Those mansions are not within our sewer districts. They’re not our customers. Our customers are likely to be a retired couple living on a back street in a modest home.”
In fact, said Blais, the Median Household Income in Lake George Village is $41,850, 30% less than the state’s, which entitled the municipality to a hardship grant for the construction project.
According to Blais, the DEC has approved the new wastewater treatment plant’s construction plans. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer, to be completed within two years.
Dan Barusch, the director of Planning and Zoning for the Town of Lake George, whose Caldwell Sewer District is served by the treatment plant, said he believed Village officials should seek a modification of the consent order, allowing them to postpone construction.
“If they were granted an extension, they would have more time to secure funding. We’re rushing a $22 million project when the emphasis should be on doing something sustainably,” said Barusch.
The Department of Environmental Conservation ordered Lake George Village to improve or replace its wastewater treatment system in 2014 when it was discovered that the plant was discharging excessive levels of nitrogen into groundwater, which seeped into West Brook and ultimately into Lake George.
According to Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky, excess nitrogen is among the most significant sources of whatever pollution may be found in Lake George and its tributaries.
At the request of the Village, Navitsky and Dr. Jim Sutherland monitored the plant for 18 months to track nitrogen discharges.
“We found a clear correlation between heavier flows and the pollution that enters West Brook and ultimately Lake George,” said Navitsky.
Because of the plant’s impact on Lake George, environmental organizations have actively lobbied state government for more aid.
“Here we have the single largest source of nitrate pollution in the Lake George basin, yet it’s not getting the attention it needs,” said Eric Siy, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George.
Without a new wastewater treatment plant in the village, Siy said, Lake George may eventually experience a Harmful Algal Bloom, which New York State has committed spending $60 million to combat on twelve upstate lakes, Lake George included.
The Lake George Association’s executive director, Walt Lender, and its president, Carla Burhoe, have written Governor Andrew Cuomo appealing for “more state financial support for the replacement of the Village of Lake George’s wastewater treatment plant.”
“Lake George is drinking water: about 75% of the homes in the Lake George watershed get drinking water directly from Lake George or from private wells. That makes the need for the upgrades all the more necessary and all the more critical – but doesn’t help to pay the cost of construction or engineering,” the letter states.
Mayor Blais said he thinks such appeals will ultimately be successful.
“New York State owns Lake George. We’re its caretakers. We’ve been the state’s partners in looking after it all these years. Now we need the state to partner with us to maintain it and protect it as it deserves to be protected,” said Blais.