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Necessary but painful job in Lake Placid

We were glad to hear Lake Placid village Mayor Craig Randall tell the Lake Placid Business Association this week that people will, in fact, get to speak publicly at a public information session about the looming Main Street overhaul. 

It was a change from the week before, when the mayor and Trustee Peter Holderied had emphasized that the event would be an information session to tell people about the project, not a public hearing to hear what they think about it.

The job has to be done. The old pipes beneath downtown Main Street have to be replaced sometime, and the smart time to do it is now, before the lines really blow out, before the 2023 Winter World University Games, and when plenty of state grant money is available to lift the burden off village taxpayers. The downtown sewer main was slip-lined in summer 2018, and now the village must replace water lines and, more significantly, the storm drain network, adding bio-retention basins to keep pollution out of Mirror Lake. So much road salt has seeped into the village’s beloved central waterbody that it no longer “turns over,” meaning the semi-annual churn of colder water between the bottom and the top. That natural cycle is essential for fish and other denizens of the lake.

But while necessary, the project will not be pretty. It’s expected to take two years, reducing Main Street to one-way traffic (not sure which way yet) for two summer tourism seasons. Many potential customers will steer clear, and it’s very possible that several businesses will be forced to close.

There doesn’t seem to be any way around that.

There’s no way to replace that infrastructure without ripping up the road, but when we build it back, we may as well build it back better. But “better” involves functionality as well as aesthetics.

Therefore, as with so many things in this village, it turned into an argument over parking.

We are glad that the village has added dozens of parking spaces back to its plan, which as of October would have eliminated a whole bunch of them. Now it would eliminate fewer than 10 — although we, and many others, believe it shouldn’t eliminate any.

Village officials wouldn’t have had to change their carefully laid parking plans so much if they had done public outreach on the front end, instead of at the end — and not just to 15 hand-picked people. If they had reached out to the general public of residents, workers and visitors, we’re sure they would have heard an overwhelming majority of people calling to add parking spaces, not cut them.

Downtown Main Street is a fabulous success — quite possibly the hottest commercial spot in northern New York. As far as we can tell, most people want it back, after construction, pretty much as it is.

In the end, leaders have to be deciders. But at the beginning, middle and almost-end, leaders need to listen to the people’s wants and concerns. Without public buy-in, leaders struggle. It’s impossible to please everyone, but if people know they were listened to and taken seriously, they can trust the process.

We know everyone involved is trying to do what they believe is best, and we don’t envy village leaders in this necessary but messy task. They must do some short-term damage, but it’s in the service of long-term good. As long as they are open and fair about it, people will go trust their leadership.

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