SOMERS, N.Y. - At least one resident of Lake Lincolndale is hopeful there might be ways to improve water quality and restore recreational opportunities before a proposed multi-million dollar sewer system is built.
George Lux was among a handful of property owners who spoke Thursday, Sept. 5, at a hearing on the town’s three-pronged strategy for revitalizing Lake Lincolndale and Lake Shenorock.
Both water bodies have been designated “impaired” by the state Department of Environmental Conservation because they are suffering the effects of eutrophication, a process that can result in dense growth of plant life, leading to a shallowing, murkiness and reduced oxygen levels for animal life and which is frequently due to runoff.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers an area with more than 40 septic systems per square mile “high” density. Lake Shenorock and Lake Lincolndale have 2,150 and 1,780, respectively.
The town has already installed stormwater catching devices at Lake Shenorock and is pursuing state funds for a similar project at Lake Lincolndale. It is also hoping to obtain $10 million from the county already earmarked for sanitary sewer projects.
WHAT TO DO NOW?
Lux said Thursday that he wasn’t a “water-quality expert,” but contended that Lake Lincolndale’s problems don’t appear to be linked to leaking septic fields. Regular tests have found that E. coli bacteria levels there are so low they’re barely detectable, the Lake Lincolndale Property Owners’ Association says.
It only takes a stroll around Lake Lincolndale to know what the problem is—runoff from lawns, or maybe even greywater from dry wells, the relatively clean stream from sinks, baths and kitchen appliances, Lux said.
Even though the town is seeking state funding for Lake Lincolndale’s stormwater project, it still seems to “be taking it on the tail end instead of dealing with what the issue is, which is runoff from lawns, not septics,” Lux said. “It seems to me that we should rectify that before we go after the secondary problem.”
Ken Kohlbrenner, a project manager with Woodard & Curran, the town’s engineers, pointed out that the $10 million being allocated by the county is “specifically targeted for sanitary sewer infrastructure improvements.”
Steven C. Robbins of Woodard & Curran assured Lux that the sewer project is “part of one big picture.”
“You are getting nutrients even if the bacteria isn’t quite getting there because of the vegetation adjacent to the lake and (for) other reasons,” he pointed out.
“The sewer aspect of this, although it feels like it’s coming lately, is 30 years in the making at this point.”
Holding things up has been a long-running political situation, town officials say. That means that Somers’ sewer project could be dead in the water unless it gets the go-ahead from the county to send effluent to a treatment plant in Peekskill.
The “window of opportunity” to use the $10 million the DEP is allocating for sewering lake districts is narrowing because, Robbins explained, water quality proposals in other Westchester communities are “gaining momentum” and they could “call dibs” on the $10 million earmarked for Somers if the town doesn’t show some forward motion of its own.
“Now is the time,” he said.
However, Robbins allowed, addressing water quality requires a “holistic approach,” meaning stormwater improvements have big impacts, as well.
Councilman Richard Clinchy, noting that the stormwater project at Lake Shenorock went quickly once it was under way, wondered about a timeline for similar retrofits in Lake Lincolndale.
As soon as grants become available, and the usual surveying, engineering and permitting processes are completed, the town could “move forward quickly,” Robbins said.
It could be done concurrently with the sewer project, he added.
Councilman Anthony Cirieco asked Robbins if any “stopgap” measures could be taken in the meantime. Robbins said he would discuss this with the town’s Highway Department.
Shenorock homeowner Joseph Luciano wanted to know how many Town Board members have property in the proposed sewer district.
None, it turns out, although Councilman Tom Garrity joked, “But if they ever want to give me sewer and water…Come on, bring it on over the hillside.”
Luciano also asked if there would be a public vote on the sewer project.
According to town attorney Roland A. Baroni Jr., the formation of the district is subject to what’s called a “permissive referendum.”
“If the residents wanted to bring on a vote, there is a process,” he said.
Luciano wanted to know why the subject hasn’t been “brought up” so far.
“We’re just not there yet,” Baroni said after explaining that the resolution would include wording that the district’s formation will be “subject” not only to the state comptroller’s approval, but a “permissive referendum,” as well.
If enough residents sign petitions, the town could schedule a special election. The number of signatures necessary is 5 percent of the property owners in the proposed district, or 100 properties, whichever “is fewer,” he said.
The initial project costs include the construction of the sewers, pump stations and connections. Once hooked up, property owners would have to pay annual operation and maintenance fees. Additional phases wouldn’t go forward unless grant funding is available to maintain an average O&M cost of $1,200 or less. The actual property costs on assessed value could range from $500 to $2,200 a year, the town says.
Clinchy said this could be tough on a lot of people’s pocketbooks and asked if there wasn’t any way to “soften the blow” for certain groups, such as veterans. Robbins promised to bring the topic up with his firm’s grant specialists.
Under the plan, the cost of bringing the sewer line up to within five feet of a building is covered. But the property owner has to hire a private contractor to bridge the gap and fix plumbing inside.
Clinchy suggested looking into the town’s ability to engage in a “Costco, mass-buying” kind of thing, like what’s done with home heating oil programs.
“Would that be something we could consider, to help the homeowner?” he asked.
Baroni said the town could put together a “preferred list” of plumbers who have agreed “to a certain price structure.” Property owners could pick from the list or hire their own.
That way the town could avoid having to go out to bid on each job, he said, suggesting that Woodard & Curran could help the town determine prices.
“But that’s a ways down the road.”