This article comes from Community News Weekly.
Ballston Lake sewer project revisited
TOWN OF BALLSTON, N.Y. — A public hearing last week on whether the Town Board should increase the stated costs for the Ballston Lake sewer project drew more than 75 residents to a hearing that saw both live and virtual components.
The two hour-long June 4 meeting saw two-thirds of the 25 residents gathered in the Burnt Hills High School gym speak in favor of increasing the project’s costs and another dozen made comments remotely. Social distancing guidelines were followed in the gym.
Those taking a public stance in opposing the increase were few; their arguments focused mainly on concerns that seniors living in in private homes in the district will be hurt financially by the long-term costs of the sewers.
The Ballston Lake sewer project has long been discussed in the town. It took on an added dimension in 2012 when the state of New York identified it as an impaired body of water. The implications were made clear to the town administration; clean it up or we’ll clean it up for you and send you a bill.
After holding meetings and getting a project cost estimate of $10.2 million voters in the proposed district, including about 90 homes in Clifton Park, approved the district’s formation. Unfortunately the lowest bid came in at $18.6 million.
After separating the project into five parts and getting a $5 million grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation the project is getting ready to move forward once again.
A vote by the Town Board on whether to increase the project’s total cost was to be held Tuesday June 9. The June 4 public hearing was held to allow board members, three of them new to the board, to hear residents’ comments.
“This is a big moment in Ballston’s history,” said supervisor Eric Connolly. “Voting whether to accept or not to accept the $5 million will determine a lot.”
Lurking in the fine print of the regulations for accepting the money and the subsequent increase of the stated costs is a stipulation that the board’s action is subject to a permissive referendum.
Connolly explained that should some of residents in the sewer district seek to challenge the upcoming board vote they could do so by submitting signed petitions to town hall with the names of approximately 30 residents who feel the same. Such a move would result in another vote of all district residents on the sewer project’s new cost estimate and a further delay in starting the project.
One of the questions posed to those attending the public hearing was whether to avoid the chance a permissive referendum completely and go right to a full vote of the district’s residents on the new cost.
“Remember, if that vote fails we’d still have to repay a $778,000 grant we received from the state for preparations because it was dependent that we get sewers and we would still have an impaired lake. If that were to happen we’d go to Plan B which is septic tank inspections,” Connolly said. “It’s up to us to determine what is best for this town.”
With the $5 million grant added in, the cost to homeowners is expected to be $907 per EDU (equivalent dwelling unity) for 30 years plus a one-time connection cost that can be anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000, and grinder pumps if needed which have been priced for the project at $3,374 each.
When the hearing was opened to the public Michael Carotta was the first to take to the mic in the Burnt Hills High School gym.
“I’m strongly in favor (of increasing the project’s cost),”he said. “Think twice about delaying the process. Think of the costs. We’ll have to pay back the ($778,000); there are septic inspections and the possible cost for a new one.”
Wes Devoe, the president of the Ballston Lake Improvement Association said he was strongly in favor of increasing the total cost noting that the $5 million grant would increase the ceiling of the project but the individual homeowner figures would remain the same.
“Some people think this is a lake-centered project but recent testing found contaminants in the streams and in the culverts. And if you’re selling your property the banks will want to test your septic systems.”
Kathy DiCaprio said she was retired and owned two properties in the district but was still in favor of going forward.
“It’ll be a hardship but it’s not a cheap process to put in a septic system,” she said.
Pete Herman, a well-known figure on the lake’s issues, also favored increasing the costs and moving forward. He said he started testing the lake in the 1980s.
“Ballston Lake needs sewers; the sooner the better,” he said. “We’ve got to make an effort to clean it up and let nature take its course.”
Kathleen Sandvidge was another who favored moving forward. Her remark, directed to the sense of smell, seemed to hit home with many.
“This is a great opportunity with the grant,” she said. “We should take advantage of what we have in front of us. If nothing is done the lake will stink just like Buell Heights when it rains.”
There were others who opposed increasing the project’s cost.
Ruth Osterlitz reminded everyone that the project is and will be the costliest project ever undertaken by the town. She also gave another side to how the grants were obtained saying people sought out the grants from the state rather than the state dangling the grants in front of the town.
Another resident opposed to the project was Nancy Yakush whose father owns property in the district but does not have lake frontage. She inferred that the process had not been transparent until people began digging deeper into what they were being told.
“Senior citizens need an exemption not a deferral,” she said. “If this goes through there is no way my father can afford the home he’s lived in since 1969. There’s got to be a better way.”
Connolly, the Town of Ballston supervisor, acknowledged some seniors might be hit hard by the cost and said the town will research grants and funding opportunities to help defray some of the costs.
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