Editorial: State, feds should help fund new Lake George treatment plant

Local officials shouldn’t have to be going hat in hand looking for help to protect the lake
Lake George is threatened by outside environmental issues, including waste water runoff.
Lake George is threatened by outside environmental issues, including waste water runoff.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

There are some things you just can’t put a price tag on.

They’re too precious, too valuable, too important, too meaningful to too many people.

If you can place that label on any asset in New York state, maybe the one thing that people most value and which brings back the most value in return, that might very well be Lake George.

From a recreational point of view, from a historical point of view, from an environmental point of view and from an economic point of view, where it generates an estimated $2 billion a year in tourism dollars, the aptly named Queen of American Lakes may very well be priceless to New York and its residents, particularly to those of us living within a day’s drive of it.

The principal asset of Lake George is the water itself.

Remarkably clean and clear to great depths, the lake is under constant assault from development and excessive use.

Milfoil, zebra mussels, algae and other environmental intrusions threaten the quality of the water, and therefore threaten the viability of the lake itself as a continued source of enjoyment and revenue.

So when Lake George village Mayor Bob Blais pleads with the governor and state legislators and members of Congress for help, his call should be heeded.

For the better part of the past 85 years, the village’s wastewater treatment plant has helped protect the lake from nutrients that feed algae blooms and invasive plants.

But that facility is failing, allowing nutrients to wash into the southern basin of the lake. As such, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has ordered the village to replace the plant within the next two years.

The treatment plant’s decline isn’t the only factor threatening the quality of the water in the lake. Fertilizer runoff from properties along the lake, failing private septic systems and discharge from boats and snow-removal equipment are also contributing to the threat.

But the village on the southern end of the lake is where much of the tourism activity takes place, where tens of thousands visitors contribute to the lake’s waste problem. And it’s the village that needs the attention right now.

Despite outward appearances, the village of Lake George isn’t wealthy.

Many of its 990 or so yearlong residents are regular homeowners and shop keepers, not the millionaires who drive those big boats and own those big houses along the shore. The average income is $41,000. A village with such a small tax base can’t alone afford the tax increases needed to support the anticipated price tag of $22 million to $25 million for the new treatment plant.

Nor should the residents have to bear the brunt of the cost for an entire lake that generates so much revenue for the surrounding counties and the state.

Bids for the plant opened last week came in a bit higher than expected, putting village officials even more on edge about how they’re going to pay for the new facility.

So far, the mayor says, the village has only secured about $7.2 million in grants. A 15-year, no-interest loan also will help. But the village still needs another $6 million to $7 million to make the plant financially feasible for taxpayers.

Given what the lake means to the state in so many ways, it’s vital that New York officials secure the funding the village needs to get this plant built. That might include tapping the state’s Clean Water Act fund, set aside for such projects. Lake George should be near the top of the list of potential recipients. Another potential funding source is the Northern Border Regional Commission, a federal and state program that helps communities in New York and parts of New England.

Sen. Charles Schumer has lent his voice to the call for assistance, and perhaps he can use his clout in Washington to find other ways to offset the cost of the plant.

Given what we all know about Lake George, given how much many of us enjoy it and how much we as New Yorkers collectively benefit from it, local officials shouldn’t have to be going hat in hand looking for help to protect the lake.

Lake George is priceless.

The cost of losing it would be immeasurable.

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