EDITORIAL: Lake George officials should look at signs and not test aging sewer facility

December 27, 2014

On the principle that the first thing you do when you’re in a hole is stop digging, Lake George officials should reconsider their vote against a moratorium on sewer hookups.

The community has suffered from the inadequacy of its sewers.

Over the July 4 weekend in 2009, a sewer pipe burst at the Shepard Park Beach pumping station and leaked about 10,000 gallons of sewage into the lake. The beach was closed for the rest of the summer.

That leak was not a freak accident but a warning to local officials that their sewer system was unreliable. As Peter Bauer, who was then the director of the Fund for Lake George, pointed out at the time, if rainwater could seep into the system, which it was doing, then sewage could seep out.

Since then, some improvements have been made. Pipes have been lined, which has stopped a huge amount of groundwater seepage into the system, relieving stress on the sewage plant.

But local officials are using that improvement as an argument against a new hookup moratorium in a way that makes no sense.

The problem at the plant is that it stands near West Brook, which flows into the lake. Tests show the brook is carrying into the lake high levels of nitrates, which can promote the growth of toxic algae.

The village has been cited by the state and fined for exceeding maximum nitrate discharge levels from the plant.

Town and village officials say that, after the pipes were lined, the flow to the plant decreased, but discharge tests show the level of nitrates in West Brook stayed the same.

Since decreasing the flow into the plant has not helped with the nitrate problem, a moratorium will be ineffective, they argue.

But their argument doesn’t hold up. Lining the pipes stopped the infiltration of groundwater. The nitrate problem stems from sewage, and the tests confirm that. Because sewage flow has not decreased, nitrate discharges have not fallen.

Town and village officials need to take this problem seriously, which hasn’t happened in recent years. Part of the problem is that, for at least four years — from 2007 to 2011 — the village’s former plant operator was falsifying reports to make the nitrate discharges appear lower than they were.

Reggie Burlingame died in 2012, so he cannot explain why he submitted false reports. But local officials should be sobered by reports that have come out since he retired in 2011 — most of them exceed the limit for nitrates. This is a problem for Lake George, and the more sewage that flows into the plant, the worse it will get.

Local officials who voted against a moratorium have argued they don’t know of any large developments being considered for the community, so a moratorium is unnecessary. The one big development that is pending — the Marriott — already has its approvals.

But a moratorium would make sure no other large projects get developed locally

before the community fixes or replaces the sewer plant. Once a developer puts in applications, it will be too late for a moratorium.

Lake George officials need to acknowledge they have a problem. Their sewer plant is old and not functioning properly. Too many nitrates are flowing into the lake. Until that problem is addressed, they should avoid allowing new developments that could make it worse.

Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star’s editorial board, which consists of Publisher Terry Coomes, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Susan Stone.

View this Editorial on PostStar.com

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