LAKE GEORGE - The recent sewage spill into Lake George was a result not only of misdirected municipal priorities, but a lack of oversight by the local board of health, citizens told the Lake George Town Board Tuesday Aug 4.
The board heard from from community activist John Salvadore, a resident of the lake's east side, that the local board of health should be held responsible for the sewer breach.
A sewer pipe burst July 5, allowing 8,000 to 10,000 gallons of raw sewage to flow into Lake George, contaminating Shepard Park beach - which remained closed Monday due to continuing bacterial contamination.
Salvadore said the village and town's Consolidated Board of Health should take routine action to assure safe and dependable sewage disposal to avoid such problems, rather than dealing with the consequences of a system failure.
"We've got to come to grips with the tendency of turning a blind eye to problems that could cause noxious wastewater to flow into the lake or the groundwater," Salvadore said.
Peter Bauer of the Fund for Lake George, a leading local environmental group, said an independent engineering evaluation of the village's sewer system should be conducted to identify deficiencies, so that such a failure can be avoided in the future.
As of Monday, purity tests of lakewater in the vicinity of Shepard Park Beach had not yielded three successive results indicating bacteria levels were below state maximums.
Bauer said that although the village had about 300 tons of sand removed and replaced in the vicinity of the beach, it was not alarming that bacteria levels remained unhealthy.
The surrounding beach sand and groundwater are likely to be harboring remnants of the sewage effluent, and the currents at the beach also are hampering the dilution and natural breakdown of the sewage, he said.
The streams feeding Lake George on either side of Shepard Park Beach create a large whirlpool, forming a backwater that may be recirculating the polluted water, he said.
Also,the village's aging sewer pipes may be corroded or broken by tree roots, allowing not only infiltration of stormwater that overburdens the sewer system, but is allowing polluted water to seep out and pollute the lake.
"No one should rule out that the sewer system is not working properly," he said, noting that when rain falls, the volumes of effluent in the sewer system is boosted by 30 to 40 percent.
While some have blamed the continuing bacteria levels on stormwater washing dog or bird feces into the lake, the contamination is greater than could be caused by such sources, he said.
But Village Mayor Robert Blais said Tuesday that the high coliform counts could indeed be from waterfowl, because since the beach was closed to humans July 5, birds have taken over. He said that Darrin Fresh Water Institute was now conducting tests to determine in the bacteria was generated by waterfowl or humans.
Salvadore said the village's sewer system should be re-engineered and the Lake George Consolidated Board of Health should be involved in planning the project.
The sewer system now has a lower main transmission line that runs along the shoreline in the village, gathering wastewater - via gravity-fed lines - from lakefront motels and enterprises.
This sewer main should be relocated away from the lake and set along Canada Street, and the lakefront businesses should be pumping their effluent up to the relocated main, he said.
But Blais countered Tuesday that the lakeside water mains were likely intact.
These sewer lines in the vicinity of Shepard Park Beach had new impervious linings installed about three years ago, which should prevent any leakage there. South of the beach, brand-new lines were installed about 12 years ago when the lakefront walkway was constructed, he added.
Salvadore warned the board that if the village government is dissolved, as is now proposed, the town board would be bearing the responsibility for repair or reconstruction of the sewer system.
Two candidates for Lake George Town board offered their opinions Monday on the issue. Janie Greene said the town should be more involved in sewer system oversight.
"This sewer line break was a horrendous catastrophe," she said. "The town board's top concern should be public health."
Greene also said the town should change some of its routine operations that generate wastewater polluting the lake. She produced photographs that show heaps of snow collected by the town's heavy equipment and piled in locations she said allowed wastewater to flow into the lake.
Town Board candidate George McGowan said Monday the village had involved recently itself with "glamorous projects" like building a visitor's center and constructing a new firehouse rather than attending to the basic public infrastructure, the fundamental concern of government.
"For years, the sewer system has needed upgrades," McGowan said. "This sewage spill is result of delayed maintenance and the wrong priorities of government."
Blais countered Tuesday that the village has been taking action, which includes a full engineering evaluation of the sewer system, and it was now underway with engineers of C.T. Male Associates conducting the work. Tuesday night, he said, a remote camera would be traversing the system, videotaping the inside of the pipe to document its condition. Also, some major upgrades are being implemented this week in the sewer pump station next to the Shepard Park beach, he said. He added that the village has also been working to secure funding for upgrades to the system.
"Once we get the engineering report, we'll go forward with improvements on a priority basis," he said. "We're headed in the right direction."
Navitsky's license now valid
In other business Monday, the Lake George Town Board passed a motion calling for obtaining information about the engineering license of Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky, affiliated with the Fund for Lake George.
But their act may be moot.
Several weeks ago, local land developers had accused Navitsky of signing documents as a professional engineer, although he was not at the time registered as a licensed engineer with the state. Navitsky said Monday his engineering license had temporarily lapsed while its renewal was being processed by the state, but his license was now in force. Peter Bauer of the Fund for Lake George confirmed that Navitsky's license paperwork was now in order, and said the attack on Navitsky's credentials was unfounded.
"This was an effort by a small group of individuals who oppose public oversight and monitoring of various regulatory boards," he said.
At Monday's meeting, John Salvadore expressed his support of Navitsky's efforts to research and protect the waters of Lake George, although he said that area municipalities were inconsistent in how they pursued the problems Navitsky routinely uncovered.
Beatty Rd. now a public street
In other action, the town board formally accepted Beatty Rd. as a town thoroughfare. Located east of Million Dollar Beach, the road has been maintained to a point by town road crews. Resident Mary Lou Vosburgh thanked the board for its continued maintenance "Thanks for making it a safe place," she said. The ownership of the road has been controversial, sparking a lawsuit against public ownership.
Vacation time limitations set
Additionally, the board adopted an Employee Vacation Policy which mandates that vacation time is used in the year in which it has accrued, except for special circumstances approved by a supervisor. In no instances may vacation days be rolled over for two years, nor shall any employee receive cash payments for unused vacation time, the law states.
Also, the board voted to purchase a 2009 John Deere backhoe/loader for $89,000, to be reduced by a $20,000-trade-in allowance.