BOLTON LANDING - Concerned of the environmental damage that could occur if the Department of Environmental Conservation follows through on its proposal to discontinue trash pickup on their own Lake George island campsites, area officials and environmentalists have concocted a plan with DEC employees they hope will be approved by their DEC bosses.
State Sen Elizabeth O'C Little, R-Queensbury; state Assemblywoman Teresa L. Sayward, R-Willsboro; representatives of various environmental groups and lake agency chiefs proposed to DEC middle-managers at a meeting Sept. 17, they add a garbage service charge to campsite reservation fees to pay specifically for trash pickup.
Area political officials and lake agency chiefs predicted the state's pending "Carry-in, carry-out" policy would result in trash despoiling the islands and being dumped in the lake.
Local officials attending the meeting who routinely see the boaters head for their campsites, said the campers sometimes take several boat-loads full of consumable supplies for a week's stay, representing a large amount of trash generated per camper.
"I've seen some folks take a half-hour to unload their SUVs and vans, then transport three boat-loads of stuff to their island campsites," Hague supervisor Dan Belden said. "A lot of this ends up as trash, and to cut off garbage pickup on the islands would be a terrible, terrible mistake."
Queensbury supervisor William VanNess, who has spent years as a police officer patrolling the lake, said cutting out trash pickup would not only cause noxious litter to collect, but the trash would prompt infestations of rodents, skunks and raccoons, posing a hazard to campers. He said people piloting $200,000 boats would not want to fill up large garbage bags with trash when they depart - they'd likely dispose of it on the island or by tossing the trash into the lake.
Lake George town supervisor Frank McCoy said such illegal disposal would likely degrade the lake's water quality, perhaps to the point that lakewater can't be used as a drinking water source as it is now.
Bolton Town supervisor Ron Conover said the degradation of the lake and its shoreline would cause more harm and expense than any temporary savings from axing trash collection could reap.
"Think of what's in jeopardy here," he said.
Walt Lender of the Lake George Association said he was concerned of the consequences.
"It would be a huge mistake to stop the pickup service," he said.
When Little and Sayward suggested simply raising the camping rates, the DEC officials balked, citing the revenues go into the state's general fund and would not be earmarked to pay for trash removal.
Citing the state's budget crunch, the DEC officials said their bosses were under the gun to drastically reduce expenses, and axing trash pickup on the state's three island campgrounds on lake George, with 387 total campsites would save $98,000 or so annually. DEC hauled away 231 tons of garbage from the campsite dumpsters on Narrows Island, Glen Island and Long Island in 2009.
They said that the Lake George islands generate a profit, but money is necessary to subsidize losses at campgrounds elsewhere.
The local officials then proposed island campers be mandated to purchase special trash bags and disposal stickers, with the revenue going to trash disposal by a private disposal contractor.
Faced with skepticism from the DEC bureau managers over whether this was possible, local officials reminded them DEC already charges campers a hefty $9 service fee to pay a contracted telemarketers who book campsite reservations for them. They proposed a trash disposal service fee of $2 to $5 could likewise be collected from campers as separate, dedicated charge.
Little said a $5 per day service surcharge could raise $450,000 for trash disposal.
Now, campers pay $25 per night to stay at a campsite. DEC officials are planning to increase that to $30 for out-of-state visitors and to $26 for those in state, while eliminating the trash pickup.
At the conclusion of the meeting, DEC Forest Parks general manager said the proposals made sense. "I'm encouraged by the ideas that were raised here today," he said.
Little said she and Sayward would be meeting with DEC legislative representatives to hammer out a deal which would be proposed to DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis.
Peter Bauer of The Fund for Lake George predicted Grannis would be responsive to the proposals.
"The proposal emerging from this meeting sounds very workable," he said. "It's a solution the Commissioner could embrace."