LAKE GEORGE — On the docks of the Lake George Steamboat Company, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he will do everything he can to help the village and town secure funding to replace the 85-year-old wastewater treatment plant.
While no funding was announced for the system that is expected to cost about $26 million to replace, Schumer said he would be asking the state to put Lake George at the top of the list for Clean Water Act funding.
There are other avenues to securing funds, he added, including the Northern Border Regional Commission, a federal and state program that helps distressed communities in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
There are about 1,000 permanent residents in Lake George with an average income of $41,000, Schumer said. The cost of the new plant, should residents bear the entire burden, would be about $26,000 each.
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“I am here to tell the residents of the village of Lake George, the town of Lake George and the entire Warren County and this whole tourism area that I am going to do everything that I can to secure funding for this great enterprise that is so important,” the Senate minority leader said. “It should be all hands on deck — state, federal, local.”
Lake George village Mayor Robert Blais and town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson were glad to have Schumer’s support, they said. They’re particularly stressed about the project, considering the state Department of Environmental Conservation has a consent order requiring a new plant to be installed and running by August 2021.
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Blais said the village has already signed for a $15 million no-interest loan and has received $7.2 million in grant funding for the project. Contractor bids for the new system come in Wednesday, Blais added, and if any are more than the $22 million the village and town have already secured, then it won’t be possible to do the work.
The village has 45 days to accept the bids, Blais said.
“We have to somehow find some more money,” he added.
This is compounded by the fact that the village has a moratorium on new construction until the new wastewater treatment system is in place. The moratorium has been in place for about three years, which means the village can’t increase its assessed value.
State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said she was working on getting funding through the state Legislature, too. With $500 million allocated in the state budget for clean water projects, she was confident Lake George could get financial help.
Eric Siy, executive director for The Fund for Lake George, said the lake is one of 12 that the state is studying in connection with harmful algal blooms.
Technically called cyanobacteria, these blue-green blooms have cropped up in lakes across the state, threatening drinking water supplies and drinking water with liver and neurotoxins. While Lake George has not had any cyanobacteria blooms, it is being studied as a model lake.
But the blooms flourish when they’re fed with nutrients, sun and warm water, and considering the problems with Lake George’s wastewater treatment, a bloom might not be far down the road.
Schumer said if people can’t swim, drink or recreate in the water, they will go somewhere else.
“If this lake becomes un-swimmable, un-fishable and un-potable, thousands and thousands of jobs would be lost,” he added, “plain and simple.”
“The plant (has) got to work,” Blais said.
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Schumer also offered comment about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to award the General Electric Co. a certificate of completion on the Hudson River Superfund dredging.
“I think EPA made a huge mistake,” Schumer said. “I think there’s still a lot of PCBs.”
He hopes the EPA will re-examine its decision.
Reporters also asked Schumer about the Robert Mueller report, which is expected to be released Thursday. Schumer said whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, everyone should be concerned about a foreign power, referring to Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin, interfering with elections.
Schumer said he wants Attorney General William Barr to release as much as possible of the report. He said redactions related to foreign intelligence, such as the identities of U.S. agents, would be OK, but he thought grand jury testimony, where there’s precedent, should be released.