State helps Lake George on sewage fix

This story appeared in the Times Union.

The state is putting up millions of dollars to help protect the legendary clear waters of Lake George from an aging sewage plant in the village that dates to the 1930s.

The state is sending the village more than $4.2 million from the state to support a planned new $18 million treatment plant.

“This is a huge sigh of relief,” said Mayor Robert Blais. “The lake deserves a new treatment plant, but this is something that is difficult for the community to afford by itself.”

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced grants for municipal water quality grants to Capital Region communities totaling about $44 million.

Lake George is under state orders to fix its sewer problem by no later than 2021, said Blais. He said the village, which is now planning for a new facility, wants to start construction by the spring of 2020. “We want to get this up and running as quickly as we can.”

He said the village also is exploring whether it can qualify for further state support through a “hardship” program by the state Environmental Facilities Corp., which awards state support for local drinking water and sewage treatment projects.

Blais said village finances allow for financing up to $10 million of the project, but more than that would put government in violation of the state's mandatory tax cap, as well as force sewer rates to skyrocket.

Environmental groups, which have been pushing for an improved sewage system, welcomed the state support. The current plant has long been linked to unsafe levels of pollution entering the lake at West Brook.

“This is great news,” said Walt Lender, executive director of the Lake George Association. “This is a small community that cannot shoulder this alone.”

Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky said the current plant has been “significantly impacting the water quality of Lake George with excessive nitrates for more than 45 years.”

Nitrates can fuel algae blooms, which threaten a lake well known for its clear waters.  Since 1980, algae levels in the lake, particularly in its southern portion around the village, have been steadily increasing, reducing the clarity of the water that draws tourists from elsewhere in New York and beyond

The new plant is expected to cut the amount of nitrogen hitting the lake by 90 percent.

For years, partially-treated sewage has been leaking through underground secondary treatment fields at the plant to get into nearby West Brook. That brook empties into the lake just north of the iconic Million Dollar Beach.

In July 2014, the DEC fined the village after finding that nitrate discharges from September 2011 to April 2014 routinely violated state safety standards. That finding came after the village found that the official running the plant had been forging pollution reports dating back to 2007 to make it appear that standards were being met.

The problem apparently dates back decades. The Darrin Freshwater Institute, an affiliate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute based in Bolton, found high nitrate levels in West Brook as far back as the late 1960s.

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