St. Armand copes with winter water issues

BLOOMINGDALE — The St. Armand water department has been repairing freeze-ups around town and also keeping an eye on the town’s municipal water supply.

Supervisor of the water department Jeff Cotter reported above-average water consumption due to leaks and because trailer park dwellers have needed to keep their water running through days of subzero temperatures. Stan Ingison, supervisor of the sewer department, reported a series of minor problems at the treatment plant related to freezing weather and to ongoing suggestions from the state Department of Conservation as to what monitoring tools are needed at the facility, which was updated only two years ago.

The town council swore in two new members at its first meeting of the year on Tuesday. Jennifer Fuller and Joseph Bates were elected last November, joining Donald Amell on the board. One seat is still vacant and will be filled by appointment. New town Supervisor (and former Councilperson) Dean Montroy had already been sworn in on Jan. 4.

The new elected officials heard a series of reports from the heads of town departments. Cotter said water consumption in December was 10,000 gallons above the norm. He identified a “significant leak” at Mountain View trailer park as one cause but suggested that it was largely due the constant running of water in insufficiently insulated trailer homes. Many of the freeze-ups of water pipes that he identified were to trailers where the lines had not been buried deep enough. He estimated that the ground is now frozen about 2 feet below the surface. In March 2015, amid a particularly long and cold winter, the town declared an emergency related to cold weather, urging residents to leave their water running.

Cotter and Montroy discussed the use of municipal water to create a rink for the upcoming Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. Cotter said the levels in the town standpipe have started to rise again, but he was also concerned about the amount of pressure exerted on old pipes during the annual creation of the extra rink for the carnival.

“I think this year we should have just a regular-sized rink,” Montroy said, “instead of a football-field-sized one.”

Cotter also told the elected officials about “carbuncles” that had formed on the screens of town water pumps. These obstructions caused the pumps to temporarily move more water out than they were able to take in and lead to “surging.” He said the problem has now been resolved.

While the subject of municipal water was on the table, the new town supervisor told the council members he would like to convene a special public meeting to talk about revamping town policies in many areas, including use of municipal water. Cotter said it was not common but that some residents used hydrant water to fill their pools, thereby bypassing paying for it. There is no explicit policy against it at present.

Ingison told the new board that a defuser manifold line at the wastewater plant had come loose during the cold snap and that he would not be able to fix it until the temperature got up to at least 10 or 15 degrees. He looked forward to the warmer temperatures predicted for later in the week. He suggested the cause was a contractor’s failure to completely tighten clamps after a repair last year.

The sewer department supervisor described several other malfunctions related to the monitoring system for the plant. Condensation was getting into places where it should not be and setting off “trouble alerts” that were expressed in codes for which he had been given no manual to interpret.

Ingison said the AES employee who is supposed to produce a manual is currently on maternity leave. She left the task incomplete, and AES feels she should finish what she started and will not assign another employee to the task.

Don Amell, the only long-serving councilperson, expressed impatience with what he called poorly engineered, poorly installed systems. He maintained that the town had been receiving the same report of the same malfunctions at the plant for the last two years.

“We need to have some recourse here,” he said. “Where do we go?”

Amell found himself repeating this complaint after Ingison described a recent visit from a DEC inspector, who told him the town should have a portable monitor for measuring dissolved oxygen levels in the sewage. Renovations to the plant included several fixed monitors, so Ingison said he was surprised when the state suggested additional monitoring in other locations.

“We just spent millions,” said Amell, “and then they keep coming back and telling us we have to spend more. It’s never-ending.”

The town’s new wastewater treatment plant cost $4.5 million and was the largest public project in the town’s history. In December 2014, the state contributed $600,000 toward the project through the Regional Economic Development Council process.

Code enforcement officer Robert Hammond is staying on through February while the newly hired Joe Amell finishes his certification program. Montroy said that it has become increasingly difficult to find code enforcement professionals who are certified. Many people in code enforcement are reluctant to work in small, rural towns because the small volume of work requires that they work in several towns that are not necessarily near each other. When the town hired Amell, said Montroy, it was the first time a new officer was not completely certified. Amell has promised to finish his program in six months. He will not receive his full salary until he does so.

At the end of the meeting Montroy scheduled a public meeting to discuss the details of a recent state audit of the town government. Members of the public are invited to attend at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 23 at the town hall in the center of Bloomingdale.