SARANAC LAKE - The state Department of Environmental Conservation is set to begin a study that will determine how much environmental contamination from a former coal gasification plant site in the village has spread into Brandy Brook and Lake Flower.
The investigation's findings could affect a proposal to return the village beach to Lake Flower, in the heart of the community. It also has implications for the homes, hotels and other businesses that ring Lake Flower, as well as the many people who use it recreationally.
DEC officials, in a fact sheet issued Thursday, said a "detailed environmental study" of the former Saranac Lake Gas Co. site on Payeville Lane and nearby waterways will begin soon.
Pontiac Bay, ringed with motels, is where Brandy Brook enters the Lake Flower in the village of Saranac Lake. The DEC plans to study pollution in the brook and lake from a former coal gasification plant on Payeville Road.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"The purpose of the investigation is to define the nature and extent of contamination in soil, surface water, groundwater and any other parts of the environment that may be affected," the fact sheet states. "The site investigation will fully characterize all contamination at the site."
The Payeville Road site is one of hundreds of former manufactured gas plants across the state that DEC has investigated for possible environmental contamination. It was in operation from the late 1800s to about the 1940s and used coal to manufacture lighting gas for the village.
A 2007 investigation by DEC found manufactured gas plant waste, like coal tar and benzene, in concentrations significantly above state standards in soils and groundwater, both on and off site. The site was subsequently classified a Class 2 Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site, the second most serious rating on the state's hazardous disposal site classification scale.
DEC spokesman David Winchell told the Enterprise in April that this new investigation will be performed by an outside environmental remediation company working under contract with and under supervision of DEC.
The fact sheet says the study will be focused in three areas: the former gas plant property, Brandy Brook and Pontiac Bay. In each location, investigators will report on the nature and extent of contamination of soils, groundwater or surface water, map the extent of the contamination, and evaluate fish and wildlife resources.
Although the area is serviced by a public water supply, a private well survey will be conducted in the area. Nearby homeowners who have a well were asked to notify DEC or the state Department of Health.
The information collected during the investigation will be summarized in a report, the fact sheet states. DEC will then develop a draft cleanup plan that describes the remedy it prefers or, if warranted, a no-further-action alternative. DEC will present the cleanup plan to the public for its review and comment during a 30-day comment period and at a public meeting.
Earlier this year the village Board of Trustees passed a resolution calling on DEC to investigate and clean up the site in a timely manner. The resolution said the investigation is a matter "of paramount importance to the village, particularly given the proximity of a residential area to Brandy Brook and since consideration is being given to re-establishing a public beach on Lake Flower in a location immediately downstream of Pontiac Bay."
Friends of Lake Flower Beach, a group of local volunteers, raised more than $5,000 to study the possibility of bringing the beach back to Lake Flower. The village board issued a request for proposals for the beach feasibility study last month.
The village beach was on Lake Flower until the 1970s, when it was closed as part of the state's widening of River Street. A new village beach was created at Lake Colby, where it is today.