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Blais: Sewer plant upgrades could bankrupt village without more state funding

LAKE GEORGE — Mayor Robert Blais is making a personal appeal to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for more funding for the new wastewater treatment plant, saying village taxpayers cannot handle a big tax increase to pay off the bond for the project.

The village is under a consent order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to replace the 85-year-old plant because it releases an excessive amount of nitrates, which causes algal blooms in the lake and degrades water quality. The new plant must be operational by August 2021.

The price tag for the project is about $22 million and the village has only obtained $7.5 million from grant sources. Blais said he is making a lot of calls to elected officials, including state Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec.

“We need the governor to include this in his discretionary funding in his 2019 budget,” Blais said.

The governor could make an appropriation in a section of his budget that provides aid for local governments, Blais said.

“He always includes different projects in that,” he said. “That’s our last shot, because we’re due to go to bid in June or July of this year, so there’s no more funding opportunities available to us.”

The village did not receive any money in this latest round of grants. Blais said he did not expect to get funding, because the village in 2017 obtained a $4.27 million state Clean Water grant and $2.5 million from the governor’s Regional Economic Development Council.

Blais said he is facing a dilemma. Borrowing $15 million would bust the tax cap and result in a huge increase for residents.

He said previously that, if the village paid back the loan over 30 years, it would increase taxes on a home assessed at $240,000 by $538 a year, essentially doubling them.

Bonding that amount of money would mean a $427,000 annual debt payment. When added to the village’s existing debt, Blais said, that would balloon annual debt payments to around $1.1 million per year.

“There’s no way after all these years that I would sign contracts to commit the village of Lake George and town of Lake George to a project that would basically bankrupt (the communities) in about five years,” he said.

Blais estimated it would also double taxes for the residents of the town’s Caldwell Sewer District.

He estimated it would mean about $38,000 more in taxes for a business such as the Courtyard Marriott or Fort William Henry. The tax increase would put some merchants out of business.

By the time construction gets underway, the cost may have risen higher than $22 million. The plan calls for building on the same site as the current plant, but Blais said hidden costs inevitably arise.

For example, he said the village just realized it has to cut down several trees to get construction vehicles to the treatment plant.

Blais said unfortunately many state officials and lawmakers still think of the big houses on the lake when they think about Lake George. But most of those houses are not connected to the sewer system.

The village is 2 square miles and has only about a thousand year-round residents, but hosts 30,000 to 50,000 people on an average day in the summer, Blais said. That is why the village has such a large infrastructure.

Blais said he believes he can make the argument the lake is a statewide asset. He pointed out that the governor has included funding to combat algal blooms.

“The state owns the lake and they need to be our partner in supporting this wastewater treatment plant,” he said. “We need to keep the southern end of the lake clean and pristine. This is where a great majority of the people come to enjoy it. All we’re asking for is partnerships.”

HOMETOWN COLUMN: 107-year-old teacher has tips for longevity


Vivian Prindl never learned to drive a car.

The 107-year-old says that helped her live a long life, since she had to walk everywhere she went.

Her father tried to teach her on an old gear shift.

Her husband, Frank, tried to teach her as well.

She even took a driving course, but it just never took.

“I’ve never been very heavy. I’ve never eaten a lot,” she said. “And then all this activity, I didn’t have time to get old.”

Prindl spent most of her adult life teaching. She was a longtime teacher at Sanford Street Elementary, then volunteered at the school for an additional 25 years.

After reading an article in a magazine about the Kurn Hattin School in Vermont that takes in abused and neglected children, she decided to volunteer there — at age 91 — and kept it up until about four years ago.

“I’ve been happy as a teacher,” Prindl said. “I’ve enjoyed my teaching.”

Born on Halloween in 1911, Prindl remembers vividly her childhood in Detroit, Michigan. She would go to the movies once a week.

“There was just a newspaper,” she said. “But no radio, no television. The cars were not sedans, they were just touring cars.”

She has a keen recollection of the first armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, when she was 7.

“The whole first page of the paper were Parisians dancing in the street,” she said.

There were no supermarkets, but rather, people shopped in small stores like bakeries, dairies and butcher shops.

She and her friends walked to school and ate lunch at home. People were married before they lived together. And women stayed home to take care of their children.

“My mother was the first woman in the neighborhood to learn to drive,” she said. “The women didn’t. There would be one car and the man would take it off, and the women didn’t drive that much.”

For fun, kids went roller-skating, rode bicycles and swam in swimming pools. They played baseball during the summers. They made their own scooters.

She worries about children today, who spend much of their free time on computers and gaming devices.

“I think there will be a price to pay because they’re not getting the social skills, they’re not getting to play,” she said. “And they’re relying too much on the tools.”

She remembers when Charles Lindbergh made his nonstop flight from New York to Paris.

“In 1927, when Lindbergh went across the ocean, all they had were those airplanes where you had to climb up,” she said. “But there were some trains. There were telephones and there were these luxury liners.”

Her first job was teaching kindergarten in Kentucky. She then taught in Germany, where her husband worked at the embassy. They came back to the states and settled in this area in 1961 when her husband got a job at the newly opened Adirondack Community College.

After she retired from Sanford Street Elementary in 1976, she took time off in the winters to travel, and she went around the world in 105 days, by boat. She even volunteered on the ship as the librarian.

She has traveled to South America, the Mediterranean, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei and England.

In England, she taught English to Pakistani women whose husbands worked in the textile industry in Northern England. She learned to love the Muslim people and wrote an essay encouraging people to learn more about Muslims. They are not all terrorists, she said.

“They’re family-oriented,” she said, “and they’re interested in people and they’re very good with people.”

A champion Scrabble player, she encourages people to “get up and go” and do things to keep their minds sharp.

“I do think you have to keep busy,” Prindl said. “And the right choices of study or travel or something makes such a difference in your life.”

She can name all 44 presidents. She has lived through 19 of their terms and names “the second Roosevelt,” Franklin, as her favorite, crediting him with rescuing the country from the Great Depression.

“Everything in Detroit was down,” she recalled. “All the big motor companies were down. All the subsidiary companies were down. And it was a terrible time. They had to have a soup kitchen.”

Roosevelt created jobs and put people back to work, she said.

She has no desire, however, to discuss the current president.

“I don’t even talk his name,” she said.

Home items getting smarter, creepier

NEW YORK — One day, finding an oven that just cooks food may be as tough as buying a TV that merely lets you click between channels.

Internet-connected “smarts” are creeping into cars, refrigerators, thermostats, toys and just about everything else in your home. CES 2019, the gadget show that opens Tuesday in Las Vegas, will showcase many of these products, including an oven that coordinates your recipes and a toilet that flushes with a voice command.

With every additional smart device in your home, companies are able to gather more details about your daily life. Some of that can be used to help advertisers target you — more precisely than they could with just the smartphone you carry.

“It’s decentralized surveillance,” said Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based digital privacy advocate. “We’re living in a world where we’re tethered to some online service stealthily gathering our information.”

Yet consumers so far seem to be welcoming these devices. The research firm IDC projects that 1.3 billion smart devices will ship worldwide in 2022, twice as many as in 2018.

Companies say they are building these products not for snooping but for convenience, although Amazon, Google and other partners enabling the intelligence can use the details they collect to customize their services and ads.

Whirlpool, for instance, is testing an oven whose window doubles as a display. You’ll still be able to see what’s roasting inside, but the glass can now display animation pointing to where to place the turkey for optimal cooking.

The oven can sync with your digital calendar and recommend recipes based on how much time you have. It can help coordinate multiple recipes, so you’re not undercooking the side dishes in focusing too much on the entree. A camera inside lets you zoom in to see if the cheese on the lasagna has browned enough, without opening the oven door.

As for that smart toilet, Kohler’s Numi will respond to voice commands to raise or lower the lid — or to flush. You can do it from an app, too. The company says it’s all about offering hands-free options in a setting that’s very personal for people. The toilet is also heated and can play music and the news through its speakers.

Kohler also has a tub that adjusts water temperature to your liking and a kitchen faucet that dispenses just the right amount of water for a recipe.

For the most part, consumers aren’t asking for these specific features. “We try to be innovative in ways that customers don’t think they need,” Samsung spokesman Louis Masses said.

Whirlpool said insights can come from something as simple as watching consumers open the oven door several times to check on the meal, losing heat in the process.

“They do not say to us, ‘Please tell me where to put (food) on the rack, or do algorithm-based cooking,’” said Doug Searles, general manager for Whirlpool’s research arm, WLabs. “They tell us the results that are most important to them.”

Samsung has several voice-enabled products, including a fridge that comes with an app that lets you check on its contents while you’re grocery shopping. New this year: Samsung’s washing machines can send alerts to its TVs — smart TVs, of course — so you know your laundry is ready while watching Netflix

Other connected items at CES include:

  • A fishing rod that tracks your location to build an online map of where you’ve made the most catches.
  • A toothbrush that recommends where to brush more.
  • A fragrance diffuser that lets you control how your home smells from a smartphone app.

These are poised to join internet-connected security cameras, door locks and thermostats that are already on the market. The latter can work with sensors to turn the heat down automatically when you leave home.

Chester said consumers feel the need to keep up with their neighbors when they buy appliances with the smartest smarts. He said all the conveniences can be “a powerful drug to help people forget the fact that they are also being spied on.”

Gadgets with voice controls typically aren’t transmitting any data back to company servers until you activate them with a trigger word, such as “Alexa” or “OK Google.” But devices have sometimes misheard innocuous words as legitimate commands to record and send private conversations.

Disturbance defense issue roils Putnam murder case

FORT EDWARD — Prosecutors are opposing an effort by defense lawyers to claim an “extreme emotional disturbance” was to blame for the killing last summer of a 15-year-old boy.

Lawyers defending 16-year-old Adrian J. Sawyer on murder and arson charges held a closed-door conference Thursday afternoon with Washington County prosecutors and Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan to discuss the status of the case.

Sawyer’s defense counsel filed a notice late last month, indicating they planned to pursue a defense that an unspecified “extreme emotional disturbance” caused Sawyer to kill Maverick Bowman in a Putnam home owned by Bowman’s family last July 26. He allegedly cut Bowman’s neck with a large knife, then started a fire in the home.

The two teens were friends and classmates at Ticonderoga High School and had argued over a girl shortly before the killing, authorities said.

The so-called “EED” defense, if successful, would result in a conviction for first-degree manslaughter instead of second-degree murder. Manslaughter is a lesser charge, punishable by up to 25 years in prison, while second-degree murder is punishable by up to 25-years-to-life.

Sawyer’s defense team has indicated since his arraignment on an indictment that includes murder and arson charges in September that the so-called “EED” defense would be pursued.

The Washington County District Attorney’s Office, though, has asked McKeighan to not allow the defense, arguing that the notice required to pursue it was not filed within the time frame dictated by state law.

Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said the law requires the notice of such a defense to be filed within 30 days of arraignment, to allow time for both the defense and prosecution to have mental health examinations done.

Trial in the case has been set for Feb. 20, with Sawyer being held in Washington County Jail, pending further court action.

“They filed the notice and we have opposed it,” Jordan said. “There are some logistical issues if they are going to try to use that defense at this point.”

Zuckerman said the formal notice was delayed as the family got funding to pay for a psychological exam, and the expert who was retained was then out of the country for a month, so the exam could not take place until last week.

He said the defense had publicly voiced its intent to pursue the EED defense from the day Sawyer was arraigned, and the defense can be pursued at any point in a case when evidence arises.

“It can be filed at any time before the close of evidence at trial,” Zuckerman said. “It’s discretionary with the judge and can be filed during trial.”

“This is an unusual case, with a lot of moving parts, a lot of issues,” he added.

The lawyers also discussed a potential deal that would require Sawyer to plead guilty to second-degree murder, but the proposed sentence has not been disclosed.