Anthony “Skip” Scirocco is in no hurry to get permission to tap Saratoga Lake for drinking water.
The city’s commissioner of public works said the project — including archaeological work begun last fall that hit the skids when the ground froze — is on hold until further notice.
The ball is in his court to bring the project back before the City Council, he said. When asked to give a time frame for when he might make a decision, Scirocco declined.
“I don’t see any big urgent need to move forward in the next couple months,” he said.
It’s a possible change of course, or at least a postponement, after a decade of the City Council pressing ahead with the project. And the prospect of a lengthy delay under the new Republican City Council worries proponents of the Saratoga Lake plan.
“It’s really kind of depressing to me,” said John Kaufmann, a city resident who has advocated for the lake project. “This is like a no-brainer. It’s just very grim that the nature of politics has put it at risk.”
Right now, this city of 26,000 people gets its water from its Loughberry Lake reservoir, Bog Meadow Brook and well fields at Geyser Crest and Interlaken. In 1988, when the reservoir and the brook were the only public water sources, a state Department of Environmental Conservation study warned the city that various factors put Loughberry Lake’s water quality and capacity at risk, including sediment contamination, development in the watershed and the potential for drought.
The city should find an alternate source of drinking water, the study recommended.
Since 1999, the city has been designing the plan to tap Saratoga Lake and going through a state process to acquire a permit. It also has been fighting in court some property owners, the Saratoga Lake Association and the Saratoga Lake Protection and Improvement District, a taxing body that oversees the lake.
Those who favor tapping the lake want the city to move ahead and get the permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Not to do so would be foolish after the city has already covered so much ground, they say.
“We’re on the one-yard line. We just need to go in and score,” Commissioner of Accounts John Franck said.
Even if the city doesn’t tap the lake for years, having the DEC permit is a good insurance policy, proponents say.
“The council owes it to the community to give us an alternate water source,” said resident Bonnie Sellers, who never wants to live through an episode of water rationing like the one about 30 years ago in Greenwich, Conn., when a drought forced the city to limit households to 45 gallons a day.
But opponents think too much money has already been spent on something the city doesn’t need.
“Saratoga Springs doesn’t have the money,” said William Connolly, chairman of SLPID. “They can’t afford a police station. How are we going to afford this?”
Commissioner of Finance Ken Ivins has made it clear that he will vote against spending any more money on the project.
Need for reliability
So far, the city has spent $1.6 million since 1999 on preliminary work, including $412,242 on legal services to the firm Young Sommer and $1.2 million on engineering fees to Barton & Loguidice.
Tapping into the lake would cost an estimated $17 million, which includes operating and maintenance costs for 30 years. The proposal would run a 30-inch water main from about 400 feet off the shore of the Water’s Edge development at the northeast end of the lake to the Excelsior Avenue treatment plant, where the water would be purified and then pumped to homes.
The lake could become the city’s primary water source if Loughberry Lake were to fail.
To add to the issue’s complexity, the Bog Meadow Brook water source that supplements Loughberry Lake in the summer might not continue to be available. William McTygue, the director of public works, said the pumping system that takes water from the brook needs frequent maintenance.
“I think we’ve outlived the usefulness of that small supplemental supply on Bog Meadow,” he said. “It’s not carefree. You just don’t go out there and turn the switch on.”
Bog Meadow was first tapped during the 1964 drought and is capable of delivering 21⁄2 million gallons a day into Loughberry Lake or directly into the treatment plant on Excelsior Avenue.
Meanwhile, archaeological work at the Spencer property on Saratoga Lake, the proposed site of a pump station, has revealed some small artifacts along the former shoreline, which McTygue said would be removed and given to the State Museum in Albany if work continues.
Family fighting project
The Spencer family hopes it doesn’t. Nine members of the family, spread all over the country, own a 12-acre parcel that has been in the family for 83 years.
“When they go on vacations, they don’t come anywhere else but here,” said Jean Spencer, the family matriarch. Spencer, who lives near the lake, is not one of the owners of the parcel, but her grown children are.
The family’s lot is the largest parcel left on the lake, an area where high real estate prices have spurred development and turnover.
“We’re talking about a site that is absolutely gorgeous. It’s not about the money. If it was about the money, we could have sold it years ago,” said Pamela Spencer Snyder, who lives in the area and whose mother is one of the owners.
The family has spent about $30,000 in legal fees to unsuccessfully fight the city in court to prevent it from conducting tests on the property. And the battle isn’t over yet, since the city only has permission to conduct tests on the property and would need to negotiate with the family and compensate them if the city gets the DEC permit and needs to take the land by eminent domain.