BALLSTON LAKE — Plans for construction of the new sewer system around Ballston Lake are going forward now that lakeside residents in both Ballston and Clifton Park have approved the project for a second time.
In referendums on Monday, property owners in the Ballston part of the sewer district approved up to $17.5 million in financing by a 345-196 vote, and those living in Clifton Park approved it 50-29. Both referendums had to pass for the project to proceed.
With the referendums completed, construction is expected to start within weeks because the town already went through the bidding process and awarded contracts to five bidders months ago at a total price of $14.2 million. The contractors all agreed to hold their bid prices through early September, pending the outcome of the referendums.
“Everything was already voted on and approved. This was just a matter of voters approving the additional money to be spent, so I would guess the contractors will be able to break ground fairly soon,” Ballston Town Supervisor Eric P. Connolly said.
Once work starts, construction is expected to take about two years.
The referendums were necessary because the cost of the project rose from the $10.2 million that voters authorized in 2015. State environmental protection grants will cover the additional cost.
The referendums re-raised questions simmering in recent years across the town of Ballston about whether sewers are needed to address bacterial and phosphorous contamination in the lake. The sewer construction will cost property owners about $873 per property for 30 years.There is also a hookup fee residents in the sewer district will have to pay.
Lawn signs urging either “Yes” or “No” sprouted up all over Burnt Hills and Ballston Lake, and there was lively discussion on social media. Some opponents felt the cost was unaffordable, while others feared the construction of sewers could lead to new and more intense development.
Backers cited the problem of septic tanks discharging bacteria that eventually makes it to the lake. Sewers would prevent that.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation considers the waters of Ballston Lake “impaired” due to bacterial contaminants, which evidence links to faulty septic systems at properties around the lake.
Over the years the lake has seen former seasonal camps converted into year-round homes, usually without upgrades to the property’s septic systems. Concerns that failed septic systems were polluting the lake were the major reason the sewer district was planned a decade ago. Property owners voted to form the district by wide margins in 2015, but with the maximum cost set at $10.2 million.
The five-year delay was in large part due to consideration of whether the district should be extended to Burnt Hills and the Route 50 corridor — an idea voters in those parts of Ballston rejected in a 2018 referendum that focused on development concerns.
Further delaying things was that construction costs turned out to be much higher than expected the first time bids were opened in early 2019. A second round of bidding — the bids opened last fall — lowered the cost after the work was broken down from one large contract into five smaller contracts.
The construction contracts now total $14.2 million. With a contingency fund and legal and design costs, the total price of the project comes to around $17.5 million. With state officials strongly supporting the project, a $5 million grant from the state’s Environmental Facilities Corp. is covering much of the additional cost.
In addition to serving the lakefront properties, the sewer district includes the hamlet of Ballston Lake, where the 1950s-era Buell Heights subdivision has a history of septic tank issues due to poorly draining soils.
In addition to the annual costs, property owners would be responsible for a one-time sewer connection cost estimated at anywhere between $3,500 and $10,000. Those costs won’t become due until the system construction is nearly done, when property owners will be asked to connect.