QUEENSBURY — Though the former Lake George Watershed Coalition was tainted with the arrest of its leader on fraud and grand larceny charges, its goal of protecting the lake’s water quality is carried on through a reincarnation.
The Lake George Partnership is taking the reins of the since disbanded coalition with a more informal approach, following the arrest of former coalition Director David Decker in March 2017. Decker, of Burnt Hills, is accused of stealing $440,000 in grant funding and will likely stand trial in July.
Queensbury Supervisor John Strough led the new group’s second meeting on Monday, and said it will not be administering or applying for any water-quality grants, nor will it have any specific incorporation or nonprofit status.
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“It’s just an organization, a community gathering of people with Lake George in their hearts,” Strough said. He is the vice chairman of the new organization. Lake George Mayor Robert Blais is the chairman, but he was absent Monday.
Many of the same players as the former coalition are members of the group, including representatives from Warren County municipalities around Lake George, the Lake George Park Commission, the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board, the Lake George Association, The Fund for Lake George and other water quality organizations.
Chris Belden, a senior planner with Warren County, updated the group on where some grants from 2012 through 2017 stand that were previously administered by the former coalition and have been taken up by the county. They included funds for projects like eradicating invasive species, controlling erosion, inspecting boats and drafting a lake management plan.
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Belden has been working with the state Department of State on the adjustments. Some projects have been abandoned because they were no longer applicable, or various municipalities and groups did not want to take on the responsibility or financial match.
Others had funds moved around or reduced, such as an assessment of the economic value of Lake George. The assessment was originally estimated to cost $200,000, but Belden said he and other partners didn’t feel it was the best use of public funds, and revised the cost to $25,000. The village of Lake George will be working on that project, along with the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board.
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Some projects that the former coalition had funding for are already underway through other avenues, Belden continued. For example, many municipalities around the lake have already been working with the Lake George Park Commission on purchasing highway equipment that would help reduce road salt use in the winter.
David Wick, executive director of the Park Commission, said moving some of the salt reduction funds to management of milfoil would be beneficial.
Members also discussed writing a watershed management plan for the lake. Belden said the last time one was written was in 2001. About $206,000 is available to write the plan, but there’s currently no local municipality to fund the required 50% match through cash or in-kind services.
Strough said the state Department of State was “clear in their support and encouragement for going ahead with this” because “it lays the platform for other grants that other entities could go for.”
Beth Gilles, director of the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board, said state and federal agencies often want to fund projects that are tied to a specific plan.
Belden identified Bolton, Lake George town and village, Queensbury, Hague, Warren County, the Lake George Association and The Fund for Lake George as participant stakeholders in the management plan, and said they would have to contribute $4,500 over three years for the grant funding he currently has. The municipalities would have to pass resolutions to enter into a memorandum of understanding for the watershed management plan.
Carol Collins, of the Assembly Point Water Quality Coalition, said the intent of a management plan was not only to make a proposed list of projects.
“It really involves looking and evaluating the current regulations (of the watershed),” Collins said. “I’m very concerned that that’s not the action we’re taking with this.”
Strough said there would be an overall vision of the lake, and include a deep dive into old and new studies about the water quality.
The discussion of the watershed’s rules and regulations turned to an update on the status of stormwater regulation revisions that the Lake George Park Commission proposed nearly a year ago. Wick said he was still waiting on approval from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to release drafts to the public. They have been with the Albany office since July 27.
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The group also discussed upcoming applications for the state’s Regional Economic Development Council awards. While the Lake George Partnership will not be in charge of any grants, the idea, Strough and Belden said, is to discuss what projects need to be done and who can apply for what, so that applications are not duplicated, or can be combined in a larger project where it makes sense.
Some of the projects being considered for applications due in July are stormwater capture systems around the town and village of Lake George and a community septic system assessment for specific neighborhoods in Queensbury (including Rockhurst, Cleverdale and Assembly Point).
Ken Parker, vice chairman of the Lake George Park Commission, added that he’d like to see Ticonderoga and Washington County municipalities around the lake join the partnership group. Strough said the group could send a letter inviting them.
The group plans to meet monthly. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, June 24, but a location has not been decided.