QUEENSBURY — Glen Lake residents want to keep their lake free of sewage, but many of them balked at the idea of letting the town test their septic systems for leaks.
More than 60 Glen Lake residents attended an informational meeting about a proposed new law Wednesday. The law would require town testing when the owner sells a property in the waterfront residential zone. The idea is that the owner would have the money necessary to replace the system, due to the sale.
Residents pointed out a flaw: if the property is “sold” to the next of kin after a death, there is usually no money exchanged. Town officials seemed hesitant to allow systems to go untested in those situations, saying they have a responsibility to the lake.
“If the system’s failing, it has to be replaced, right?” Supervisor John Strough said in response to a question about that scenario.
But a new system could cost $20,000 to $50,000, including design, according to an engineer at the meeting. That could create a very difficult situation for young adults who suddenly inherit a lakeside property.
“They don’t have the money. What happens to my property?” asked resident Tom Babcock. “Does it get chained up?”
Officials did not answer. However, in situations in which a house is known to not have a working septic system, code enforcers usually declare the house uninhabitable. It’s not clear what would happen to a property when the system has not been tested and does not appear, externally, to have failed.
The law proposes fines and jail time for those who do not get the system tested.
Strough emphasized that many systems would pass the test. But residents on Glen Lake suspect otherwise.
“Let’s not mislead people. If you have an old system that’s a metal tank or cesspool, that’s going to fail,” said Paul Derby, president of the board of the Glen Lake Protective Association. “We know there are systems that are old. And we want to keep our lake clean.”
Others objected to the testing because of the length of time it would take to get a new system built. Since the plan is to have the system tested as part of a sale, they said, the law would delay sales significantly. It would take two to three months, at best, to get a new system designed by an engineer and approved by town officials, particularly if the lot is small and needs variances approved by the Board of Health. Then it would likely take another month to get the system installed.
“It’s going to be at least a couple months and it’s going to be costly. That’s the reality,” Derby said. “You live in an environmentally fragile place.”
Some residents worried that their lots are so small, rocky or otherwise inhospitable to septic systems that they would not get approval for a new one. Town officials said they would approve holding tanks in the worst situations, but noted that there are new “enhanced treatment” systems that use much less space.
There was some debate at the meeting over whether the Town Board should exempt new systems from the testing requirement. New systems were defined as those less than 10 years old, but town officials cited cases of new systems failing.
Some residents also objected to digging up their drainfield distribution box (D-Box), which is required in the proposed law.
Resident Jim Mackey said good septic pump-out haulers could test the system without digging up anything.
Another residents said her D-Box is under a stone wall, making it very difficult to access.
But town Building and Codes Director Dave Hatin said the best way to test a system is to look at the D-Box.
“When we have a failed system, the typical place that shows it is the D-Box,” he said. “If you care about doing what’s right for the lake, what’s right for the buyer, this is the right way to do it.”
One main test: officials check to make sure sewage is flowing equally from each “leg” of the D-Box. If the box has shifted over time, the sewage might be flowing to only one part of the absorption field, from only a couple of the legs. That puts too much sewage in one area, reducing the field’s effectiveness as it filters the waste. That problem can sometimes be easily fixed by readjusting the box, town consultant Kathy Bozony said.
As more objections were raised to the number of items considered to be “failing” — from metal tanks to four or more pump-outs a year — town officials pointedly noted that they were trying to keep the lake clean.
“How about your neighbor’s system that’s failing in the water your kids are playing in?” Strough said.
Derby added, “I would assume everyone here would not be OK with a failing system.”
A few lake residents spoke up in favor of testing septic systems, with some even going so far as to say all the systems near the lake should be tested regularly.
“Our system failed in two years. Brand-new house on the lake. I couldn’t believe our system had failed — I felt so bad about it,” said resident Dennis Fredette. “Systems can fail any time. And the lake is so valuable.”
His cement tank didn’t get sealed, which was an installation error. He cited that as a reason for testing every two years.
Resident Pamela Cembrook agreed.
“We need to do this on a regular basis. You should want to know what’s going on with your system,” she said. “It’s our lake. This is our little piece of paradise and we need to protect it.”
She was joined by one other resident, Jerrie Mansmann, who said that many people were listening quietly but were in favor of testing septic systems.
“We’ve had our D-Box dug up, it’s not a big deal,” she said. “I’m really concerned about the quality of the lake. I think we need to think about the future. I think we need some kind of inspections.”
Town officials plan to hold similar meetings with residents who live next to Lake George and Lake Sunnyside. The law would also apply to those who live in the waterfront residential zone by the Hudson River. If Town Board members decide to move forward with the law, the town will schedule a formal public hearing later this year.