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Sewer upgrades in pipeline are pricey

Saranac Lake sewer ratepayers will cover most of $11.5M UV light system

Saranac Lake’s wastewater treatment plant is seen in November 2018. (Enterprise photo — Jesse Adcock)

SARANAC LAKE — The village board on Monday agreed to borrow $11.5 million for an ultraviolet light disinfection system to be added to its wastewater treatment plant.

This project, mandated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, will be funded through an $11.5 million, zero-interest loan from the state Environmental Facilities Corporation, according to village Manager John Sweeney.

The village has secured $3.7 million in grants, and the rest of the cost will be paid off through a $120 annual — $10 per month — addition to each of the village’s 2,030 wastewater ratepayers’ bills for the next 30 years.

“This is a big-ticket item,” village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said at the board meeting. “Even though it’s not our taxes or our tax rate, it still impacts everybody in Saranac Lake.”

Sweeney said there will be another plant update project in the coming years, which he estimates will cost between $15 million and $30 million — he’s calling it a “$30 million project” in expectation of it being on the higher end. He said the reason the village is putting so much money into the wastewater treatment plant is that it has a good record of efficiency and clean water output.

“You wouldn’t want us just to be pumping raw sewage in the river,” Sweeney said in a phone call.

He estimated the total facility’s worth at around $100 million. He said the village has consistently updated to patch problems but that now it is time to update bigger elements.

The upcoming “$30 million project” will include the treatment plant’s aeration unit, building and headworks — the first step in filtration.

This UV disinfection system mandate from the DEC came as a surprise, though, and sidelined the village’s existing wastewater update plans with an additional project. Sweeney estimated that the UV system project will take two years to complete.

UV

Sweeney said the village chose UV disinfection over chemical disinfection because it believes it will cost less in the long -term. Rabideau said the UV system installation involves high-tech equipment and specialized work, making it a large investment up front.

Sweeney explained that after the water passes through all of the current filtration and disinfection processes at the plant, the last step it will take before being pumped into the Saranac River will be to pass through troughs lined with UV lights. He said the DEC only mandates the village use these lights during the summer months, as bacteria cannot survive in the cold.

Digesters

The UV project would also include updates to at least one of the plant’s two anaerobic digesters. Digesters are where solid waste decomposes.

Sweeney said the two digesters have been steadily running for 25 to 30 years and that the secondary unit is experiencing clogging problems. He said the village will shut down that unit, tear it open, clean it out, diagnose any problems it has and then fix them. If there is enough money left, he said the village will do the same with the primary digester.

Bids

Sweeney said he was “pleasantly surprised” with the number of bids the village received from companies for work on the project — 21.

There are four aspects to the project, and a different company will work on each.

VMJR Companies of Glens Falls won a $6.6 million general contracting bid. FPI Mechanical of Albany won a $1.3 million plumbing bid. Weydman Electric of Tonawanda won a $569,000 electric bid. K&L Mechanical of Rocky Point won a $103,000 mechanical bid.

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