ELIZABETHTOWN - A public referendum on the formation of a sewer district in Elizabethtown is scheduled for Jan. 25, and there is still significant division on a proposal several years in the making.
The project, which is expected to total over $9.5 million, involves a gravity-based sewer system that would service the most dense areas of the hamlet and feed into a wastewater treatment plant along the Boquet River on Woodruff Lane.
Many residents, including several members of the town's planning board, have opposed the project, wary of a noisy, malodorous, or ugly sewage plant that could ruin property values or interfere with their well-being.
"We are not opposed to wastewater treatment in Elizabethtown," wrote planning board members in a letter to the editor. "We are opposed to locating a sewer plant in the middle of a residential area that is adjacent to an historic district. We appreciate the time and effort that the Town Board has put into this project."
Town supervisor Noel Merrihew said the Woodruff Lane site was the best option available after considering at least six sites in and around the hamlet. He noted that the property has always been zoned for industrial purposes.
While the town board unanimously supports the project, said Merrihew, it is ultimately in the hands of voters.
"As a town board, it's our job to recognize a need and collectively present a capital project for consideration," he said. "We're not forcing this on anybody; we're giving them an option to decide on."
Financing for the sewer system will largely come through grants and low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program, combined with a $1 million grant previously received from NYSDEC.
In December, USDA announced an additional 2.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds for the project, bringing the total grant money for the project up to about $7.7 million, roughly 80 percent of the total cost.
Nearly all of the remaining $1.8 million will be funded through a 30-year no-interest loan through the state-run Environmental Facilities Corporations.
Merrihew said the extensive grant funds will ensure that, if the project is approved by voters, it could move forward at the target cost to taxpayers: $362 annually per single-family home or equivalent dwelling unit. Commercial and institutional users would pay a higher rate.
"To me, if the referendum is in the positive, we're ready to move forward," said Merrihew. "If it is decided that it is not the time or the project isn't right for the town, we will pick up our pieces and go onto another project."
Merrihew said the project addresses environmental concerns while opening up the hamlet for future economic development. He noted how many properties in the business district would require municipal sewer to invest in desired growth.
"You have two choices in the Adirondacks," said Merrihew. "You can plan and invest in the future growth of your town, or you can settle for a slow but sure demise."
Another major concern, said Merrihew, is the future of the county-owned Horace Nye Home. If the facility relocates, a resolution at the county level stipulates that it must be to a municipality that has a public wastewater treatment system in place.
"That's probably the more sobering reality," said Merrihew. "It's job retention."
Voting will take place Monday, Jan. 25 from 4-8 p.m. at the Elizabethtown Town Hall. Voters in the referendum must own property within the proposed district. Each property owner is granted one vote regardless of whether they own multiple properties within the district. Each owner of a jointly-owned property may vote in the referendum. For more information on voter qualification, call the Elizabethtown Town Hall at 873-6555.