SARANAC LAKE - Following a September sewer blockage that caused some 1,000 gallons of raw sewage to spill into Lake Flower, Saranac Lake Mayor Tom Michael wants to investigate an alarm system that could notify Department of Public Works staff of backups in the system.
Dave Winchell is state Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 spokesman. He said the village DPW submitted a report of noncompliance regarding a sanitary sewer overflow to DEC on Sept. 21.
According to that report, a "plug of unknown type and origin" formed in the Riverside Drive sewer trunkline near the parking lot for the village offices.
"Sewage backed up in the line until it overflowed from a manhole on the Harbor Beach property along Lake Flower," Winchell said.
That overflow was reported to the DPW around 9:15 a.m. Sept. 19. Village crews spread lime on the lands and the beach where sewage had overflowed, the purpose being to kill any pathogens that may have been deposited there.
A subsequent report was submitted to both DEC and the state Department of Health. It was then determined that about 1,000 gallons of sewage had overflowed.
Then, in October, DEC sent a notice of violation of a sanitary sewage overflow. The notice informed the village that it complied with all necessary reporting requirements.
But Winchell noted the village, still, did "unlawfully discharge pollutants into the waters of the state."
"DEC requires that the village undertake a televised inspection of the line, and provide a report of the findings, recommendations for addressing any problems found and a schedule to complete those recommendations," Winchell said.
The deadline to complete those requirements is Nov. 20, and Winchell said the village did indicate it intends to clean the line and inspect it with a sewer camera. He also noted that DEC will determine any enforcement actions after a review of the village's report.
At Monday's meeting of the village board of trustees, Michael said it might be wise given the recent incident to invest in some sort of alarm system that would notify DPW crews long before blockages turn into overflows.
"Through no fault of ours, the manhole and bricks collapsed and blocked it up and we overflowed into the lake," Michael said.
"I've heard for years that our insurance doesn't cover these issues, they flood peoples' basements and overflow into lakes and rivers," he said. "I would like some investigation done; is there an alarm-type system that we can phase into our manholes? Float switches or whatever it would be, so we could be notified of system backup prior to someone finding it in their basement or finding it coming out of a manhole."
That lack of insurance for sewage overflow incidents - coupled with the possibility of large DEC fines - is enough of a concern that Michael believes an alarm system would be a financially-wise endeavor.
"I think this is a bigger problem and I think it's something that future boards are going to deal with going forward," Michael said. "And I think at some point in time, the environmental folks are going to require it, because you can't wait until sewage comes out to find out you have a problem. I don't know if it's a wireless system, I don't know what it is, but I'd like to see what the alternatives are out there."
Village Manager Marty Murphy said he would explore possible alarm systems that would alert the village when backups occur. He'll also explore the costs of such a system.