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Village board split over water project

September 29, 2009
By CHRIS KNIGHT, Enterprise Senior Staff Writer

SARANAC LAKE - Short one member, the Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees lacked a majority vote Monday night to move forward on a multi-million dollar water project.

With Trustee Christy Fontana absent from the meeting due to recent surgery, the four-member board wasn't able to reach a consensus on one of three options, all of which would answer a state Department of Health mandate to upgrade the village water system.

Mayor Tom Michael and Trustee Jeff Branch were both in favor of a dual-source water system that would involve building a water filtration plant to treat water from the village's existing source, McKenzie Pond, while also drilling wells into groundwater near the village sewer plant to serve as a backup system. At a cost of $14 million, the dual-source plan is the most expensive option.

Article Photos

The Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees wasn’t able to agree Monday night on which option to pursue to upgrade the village water system. Pictured from left are Trustee Susan Waters, Mayor Tom Michael, Trustee Jeff Branch and Trustee John McEneany. Trustee Christy Fontana was not in attendance.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

Both Michael and Branch said they didn't want to give up on the investment the village has made in the current system, which uses hydropower from the dam at Lake Flower to pump water up to the village storage tank on View Street.

"The thought of being self-sufficient in terms of not needing electricity to pressurize our water system is very appealing to me," Michael said. "Although it's more expensive, I think it would be a better solution for the future."

"It goes against everything I believe to go for the most expensive option," Branch said. "However, I don't want to give up our green power and all the upgrades we've made to that system. I want to plan for the future and dual source is the best way to do that."

But Trustee John McEneany said he favored a single-source proposal that involves drilling two wells on the wastewater treatment plant property, an option that would cost $11.7 million.

McEneany said the wells would provide "an endless source of clean water" and would be less susceptible to changing drinking water standards than a surface water source like McKenzie Pond.

But he didn't want to abandon the McKenzie Pond-based system either, and said it should still be used to generate hydro electric power to offset the higher electrical costs of operating the well-based system.

Like McEneany, Trustee Susan Waters also favored a single-source groundwater-based system.

She said it didn't make sense to spend millions of dollars to develop wells just for use as a backup source while also spending money on the aging infrastructure of the current McKenzie Pond-based system.

"I have this image of us buying a Cadillac and putting it in the garage while we continue to put money into a Pinto and drive it around," she said.

At the same time, Waters said she didn't want to abandon the existing McKenzie Pond-based system and wondered if it could be used to supply the prisons and other users in Ray Brook.

A third option wasn't discussed by the board. It involves building five wells in two locations at a cost of $13.7 million.

Lacking a majority vote, the board decided to meet again Thursday night, hopefully with Fontana in attendance, to revisit the issue.

The village's engineers have been pushing the board to make a decision on the project soon, so state and federal funding applications can be submitted.

Jason Denno, of the state Environmental Facilities Corporation, said the project has received a score of 245 points, which he said was "very high" when compared to other proposed water projects in the state.

"The draft funding line is approximately 240 points," he said. "We're in a good position to move the project forward."

An application to the state's Drinking Water Revolving Fund has to be submitted before the end of November. A funding request through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program needs to be submitted as soon as possible, Denno said.

Proposed one-way

street tabled

In other business Monday, the board tabled a proposal to make a section of Main Street one-way, from Church Street to Pine Street.

The move came after a public hearing where nearby business owners and parishioners of St. Luke's Episcopal Church said a one-way street could be inconvenient to motorists and lead to the loss of parking spaces next to the church.

The board agreed to look into the issues raised by the public at the hearing.

Hearing set on change in village's fiscal year

The board has scheduled a public hearing on a plan to change the start of the village's fiscal year from June 1 to Jan. 1, beginning in 2012.

The change would align the village's fiscal year with surrounding townships and Essex and Franklin counties. It would also change the dates of tax collection in the village.

Before moving forward, however, McEneany asked village officials to determine what impact the changes could potentially have on the escrow accounts of those who have a mortgage. He also said the village should look into changing its election cycle to match the new fiscal year, although other board members said that had already been pursued unsuccessfully.

The public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13 in the village offices.


Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or



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