Off the Northway: Hard to keep up with lake development

So many water hounds and vista-lovers have flocked to Saratoga Lake in the past 30 years that sewers

Saratoga Lake is a bountiful body of water, a great place to get nibbles from walleye, power up a boat or just sit on an outdoor deck and offer the sunset a beer.

That’s why people have flocked to the 3,800-acre lake for generations. They used to stay a few weeks in seasonal camps on tiny floodplain lots, but now it’s mostly year-round homes.

In fact, so many water hounds and vista-lovers have flocked to the lake in the past 30 years that sewers installed there are full and a second sewer line is going to be installed, lest the stains of humanity further cloud the weed-filled waters.

Spending $18 million now for a new sewer line along Route 9P inevitably raises the question — at least in my mind — of whether the system installed in the early 1980s should have been built larger.

Probably so. Even though Saratoga County’s population had already doubled between 1950 and 1980, no one — or at least not a voting majority of county supervisors — foresaw the extent of growth that was still to come.

Seasonal camp conversions have been part of it, for sure, but so have chic new year-round — and very upscale — developments on the lake’s highlands, housing projects like Saratoga Glen Hollow in Stillwater and Water’s Edge in Saratoga Springs. Lake Lonely, just over a ridge from Saratoga Lake, hasn’t been lonely in years.

Helped by the presence of sewers, there was so much development around the lake that by 2005, the county sewer district was refusing to allow any more connections.

It seems reasonable to ask whether a bigger sewer line should have been installed in the 1980s. Back then, there was federal money for local sewer projects, something that may never be true again.

On the other hand, county leaders deserve credit for installing the line. The alternative — development around an environmentally sensitive lake without public sewers — is on prominent display around Lake George. There, a coalition of development opponents and residents who were worried about their taxes beat back plans for sewers in the 1970s. And then the development happened anyway, and today runoff from first homes, second homes, motels and restaurants is one of the several big threats to Lake George’s water quality.

Figuring out how big water plants and sewer lines should be always involves a lot of guesswork — and history shows Saratoga County officials often underestimate, either to keep costs down or because they didn’t see all the development that was coming.

In a new example, it’s possible the 10 million gallon-per-day sewer built in 2009 to connect GlobalFoundries to the county sewer system — a six-mile, $4 million line — won’t be big enough within the next few years.

The computer chip plant, now in test production, is currently discharging about 2 million gallons a day of industrial wastewater. It plans to be using 3 million

gallons a day by sometime next year, as commercial production starts. And that was before this week’s announcement that the plant will expand its manufacturing capacity by more than 30 percent by 2014. By some estimates, GloFo will then need 5 million gallons a day.

That sewer line is intended to also serve other businesses that move to the tech campus. Suddenly it’s looking like it could be a tad inadequate. Sound familiar?

“If [GlobalFoundries] builds a second plant, we will need a second line,” said Michael Relyea, president of the Luther Forest Development Campus Economic Development Corp.

Relyea’s corporation owns the line and would desperately like to turn ownership over to the county sewer district. A variety of construction flaws and technical issues have kept that from happening before now. Officials believe those issues have finally been addressed, and an ownership transfer may happen within another month or two.

“I firmly believe it is sound now,” sewer district collection manager Grant Eaton told sewer commissioners this week.

The pipe comes down a steep hill at Farley Road in Stillwater, then makes a sharp left turn, so you’d want that sewer to work right. Should it break, the Anthony Kill, home of beavers, muskrats and Mechanicville’s Whitewater Derby, is right across the highway.

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