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Sackets Harbor fights DEC’s order for disinfectant system at sewage plant

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SACKETS HARBOR — The state Department of Environmental Conservation wants the village to upgrade its sewage treatment plant to comply with its new disinfectant policy, but the state Department of Health said it isn’t required to do so because the facility meets testing requirements.

The village Board of Trustees decided Tuesday to challenge DEC’s push to make the village install an ultraviolet disinfectant system at the plant, which could cost up to $400,000 without engineering costs. An Oct. 9 letter from DEC warned that the village will need a modified discharge permit that would require a new disinfectant system to treat the effluent discharged from the village plant into the mouth of the Black River Bay at Lake Ontario. The permit is required because effluent flows into the bay so close to Lake Ontario, which is considered a Class A water body; the bay, by contrast, is a Class C water body that doesn’t require a disinfectant system.

But the Health Department recently told village officials that DEC cannot enforce the permit modification, because past testing done on discharged effluent has proven the facility is compliant under state law, Mayor-elect Vincent J. Battista III said.

“They’ve asked us to modify our permit, but it has to be determined by the Department of Health that there is an issue with our outflow to do this,” said Mr. Battista, who will replace outgoing Mayor F. Eric Constance in January. “The DOH has no issues with our outflow. The DEC is making this a policy, but the DOH law says we don’t have to do it. We have (discharge) testing documented from 2008” that proves it.

As a precaution, village officials will prepare to apply for a state Water Quality Improvement Project grant that would fund 85 percent of the overall project cost, Mr. Battista said. The village was supposed to submit that application by Dec. 13, but it has requested a deadline extension of 30 to 60 days to evaluate its options to fight the ruling.

“We also want a hearing so that we can plead our case” against the project, he said.

During public comment, Planning Board Chairman Gary M. Gibson advised the board to “dig in its heels” and challenge the DEC effort to upgrade the new $9 million facility, which was completed in the spring of 2012.

“I’ve heard that ultraviolet disinfectant systems can cost $1 million, and that amounts to $150,000 that would have to come from the village of Sackets Harbor” if it receives the state grant, Mr. Gibson said. He recently spoke with a senior official from DEC about the project and learned that the agency’s disinfectant policy has caused “a turf war” with the Health Department.

“My opinion is we can simply stay out of this if the DOH approves,” he said. “It seems like the DEC is trying to set us up as a poster child because we have one of the best systems in the state, but my gut feeling is we shouldn’t back down because they don’t have any authority.”

In other business, Mr. Battista notified the board that Sackets Harbor developer Lawler Realty, which is building a 90-unit apartment complex at Madison Barracks, failed to sign a $750,000 bonding agreement that should have been approved before construction started in the spring. Designed to protect the village if the project fails, the agreement was stipulated in the 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement made between Lawler Realty and the village, the town of Hounsfield, Sackets Harbor Central School District and Jefferson County. The village still will seek to approve the agreement with Lawler, Mr. Battista said, which would provide insurance for water and sewer infrastructure through 2014.

“The agreement should have been approved a year ago, but it was an oversight,” he said. “The danger was if they failed to complete the project or bailed out, because the village would have needed funding to finish it.”

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