Word of Life Institute's sewage treatment plant near the shore of Schroon Lake, photographed by Town of Chester John Wolfe on June 21, the day he was called out to investigate a noxious pool of biomass emitting a noxious smell in Schroon Lake in the vicinity of the sewer plant. Wolfe contends he saw and smelled human feces in the water; state health and environmental officials say the brown chunks were "mats of algae," and that Word of Life's sewer treatment plant is working properly and in compliance with state regulations. Chester officials say they will investigate further.
Town of Chester officials said they’ll be looking into a claim by a town officer that he witnessed in mid-June a mass of sewage containing feces in Schroon Lake near Word of Life Institute’s sewage treatment plant outflow — an allegation that state health and environmental officials have disputed.
Chester Deputy Code Enforcement Officer John Wolfe said that on June 21, he received a complaint of a sewage discharge in the lake, and rode out in a boat with a local citizen to investigate.
Wolfe said he was overcome by the stench of the brown substance floating in the water here and there, chunks of which closely resembled human feces in its aroma, form and substance. The pollution pool extended about 40 feet out from shore in the vicinity of Word of Life’s sewage treatment facility, he said.
He said he waded into the water, picked up samples, and examined them closely.
“I picked it up and smelled it — it was definitely human feces,” he said.
The state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation were notified. They responded, collecting samples and running tests, agency representatives said this week. The samples gathered showed no indication of human waste, but were identified as “floating mats of algae,” DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said Aug. 17 in an email. She said state Health officials supported DEC’s findings.
“DEC has inspected the Word of Life facility and found it to be in substantial compliance with its wastewater permit,” she stated.
But Wolfe countered that the agency was not reporting the facts — he accused state authorities of caving into World of Life’s influence.
Wolfe said he’d talked to a DEC employee familiar with the evidence, and the employee had confirmed the substance was indeed human waste.
“You don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to know what human waste is,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe’s report prompted the State Department of Health to close down Word of Life’s beach as a precaution while they ran the tests, agency spokesman Peter Constantakes said.
“Near the discharge pipe, we found plants that had biodegraded, emitting a bad odor — but we didn’t find any feces,“ he said. Constantakes added that the two state agencies found no indication it was a sewage spill.
“There was no evidence of a sewage discharge,” he said. “But I can’t tell you exactly what it was.”
World of Life Operations Vice President John Nelson said his organization had experienced no problem recently with their sewage treatment operations.
“This is a story that isn’t a story,” he said, adding that he didn’t know what was in the lake that day.
“I’m not an expert on those things, he continued. Nelson declined comment on whether the system was inspected on a regular basis, and he refused to answer further questions.
Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe said he would be discussing the situation with the town attorney and the town board, as the photos Wolfe took June 21 and submitted to him showed substance the size, shape and color of human feces floating in the waters of Schroon Lake.
“The state Health Department and DEC are normally very aggressive on issues like this,” Monroe said. “It’s confusing to me why they are not investigating this further.”