Pontiac Bay cleanup could cause parking problem

SARANAC LAKE — At Monday night’s village Board of Trustees meeting, state Department of Environmental Conservation officials rolled out a timeline for phase one of remediating a Superfund site at Pontiac Bay, where Brandy Brook flows into Lake Flower.

DEC promises the boat launch will remain open during the construction season. However, the parking lot won’t be open, and that could cause some problems.

DEC Regional Director Bob Stegemann presented the plans to the village trustees, emphasizing that the plans are “not entirely final.”

“The current plan is to have a single contractor do both,” said Stegemann. The site cleanup will involve removing contaminated sediment and soil in Pontiac Bay of Lake Flower, as well as in and along Brandy Brook. Stegemann said the work will take place between April and December 2018, at least for this phase. Completing the paving work will happen the following year.

According to the fact sheet Stegemann presented, “A significant portion of the Lake Flower Boat Launch and the Village of Saranac Lake’s property adjacent to Pontiac Bay will be required for dewatering and transfer operations, equipment staging, and other activities.”

Mayor Clyde Rabideau said the village opted for getting the disruption over quickly: “The village has decided to take the pain for the least time possible.

“We know that it’s not convenient and it’s disruptive,” said Rabideau, “but we’re working on making it as least disruptive as possible.” Rabideau said DEC had guaranteed the land would be cleared of construction equipment in time for the Ice Palace, the centerpiece of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival each February.

Although the boat launch will remain open, Stegemann said the parking lot will not be available to the public. Public parking will be removed to the Second Pond boat launch on state Route 3 toward Tupper Lake, where there is a newly expanded parking lot.

Trustee Thomas Catillaz objected: “In the summer, both of those parking lots are full. This boat launch is packed all summer, and Second Pond is packed. You’re not going to be able to put 50 trailers there.

“There’s going to be an uproar if this gets overlooked,” said Catillaz. “I think we’ve got to address this before we start.”

July 4th festivities would also be affected by construction, but it was not clear to what extent. Stegemann said he didn’t see that they’d have to be moved from the traditional site on Lake Flower’s shore.

Stegemann said the DEC has few options unless other entities pitch in to solve the parking problem: “Other than this, we don’t have a lot of state land [where we could send parking].”

Trustee Richard Shapiro asked whether North Country Community College had been approached, about possibly using their parking lots. Rabideau said he had, but unofficially.

The site work will involve removing contaminated soils while preventing them from running off in the water or blowing away in the air. Trucks will be loaded under a tent with an air filtration system, all loads will be covered with a tarp when they leave the site and erosion controls will block runoff.

Trustee Allie Pelletieri asked about cleaning up Brandy Brook. The source of its contamination was the former site of the Saranac Lake Gas Company on Payeville Lane. From 1909 to the 1940s, the company provided gas lighting for the village through coal gasification, in which coal is burned with insufficient oxygen for total combustion.

“Since that is the source, I’d assume you’d take care of it first,” Pelletieri said.

Stegemann said that actually the contamination from that site is migrating the other way through the groundwater, toward McKenzie Brook and McKenzie Slough. The reason Brandy Book became contaminated is that the plant’s waste was pumped into it back in the days when the gasification plant was running, DEC spokesman Dave Winchell explained later. (Editor’s note: Clarification has been added to this story about how toxins got into Lake Flower from the former site of the Saranac Lake Gas Company.)

At the meeting, Winchell added, “We’re going to work with the village in delayed restoration of Brandy Brook until the village can get in there and get the sewer line in.”

Site cleanup of Brandy Brook will involve upgrading and cleaning culverts, clearing fallen trees and debris, and reworking the drainage so the brook discharges farther into Pontiac Bay. The contaminated soils will be replaced with “material that provides a suitable ecological habitat,” according to the fact sheet.

During the public comment period, Linda Ellis, chair of the village Parks and Trails Advisory Board, expressed concern that displaced boaters would park in the River Street bike lane.

“People get wedded to a parking spot,” said Ellis. “If they park in the bike lane this year, next year they’ll expect to do it again. We have to make sure it returns to bike lane use.”

Stegemann reiterated the DEC’s promise to continue to work with the village to solve the problems posed by construction. Winchell added that the department talks to affected businesses and neighbors directly, and that he would visit residences in the Brandy Brook/Pontiac Bay area next, having already knocked on the businesses’ doors.

An informational meeting will be held before the work on the Superfund site gets started. Brandy Brook’s Superfund designation is as a Class 2 inactive hazardous waste site, being the former site of the Saranac Lake Gas Company. While not all the contamination at the site requires immediate action, the DEC identified several chemical compounds as “contaminants of concern” that trigger the removal process.

The dangers lie in coal tar, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes. Studies have found that exposure to these byproducts of coal gas production can result in skin cancer and cancer of the scrotum, as well as more immediate effects such as burning in the throat from drinking contaminated water.

During the remediation process, workers will remove an estimated 5,800 cubic yards of sediment and soil in an area of 29,000 square feet, excavated to an anticipated depth of 4.5 feet.