By David Gibson
Mt. Morris from Cranberry Pond. Photo by Dave Gibson
Mt. Morris (former Big Tupper Ski Area) from Route 30.
Photo by Dave Gibson
Of all the issues out in the media about the Adirondack Club and Resort application and hearing now under review by the APA, there has been a surprising lack of information and discussion about water – sewage from all those homes, potable water supply, run-off, impacts on streams and Tupper Lake itself, and impacts on the Village of Tupper Lake’s public water and sewage delivery and treatment systems.
These are hardly glamorous issues, but they are of intense concern to local residents, village officials and to Park advocates alike, as well as to our public permitting agencies. Tupper Lake, into which a good deal of the sewage effluent will flow, is an extremely important Adirondack freshwater lake, and an important water source for the Village and Town of Tupper Lake.
One of the problems in reporting and discussing these matters is that water issue jurisdiction is split between the APA and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and it is not at all clear to the public where one agency’s jurisdiction over water issues ends and the other’s begins. What is clear is that the ACR applicant, Mr. Foxman, has not completed his applications for the four or five DEC permits he must have to begin construction. These applications pertaining to water supply, sewage and wastewater treatment, and storm water run-off and pollution prevention were all noticed by DEC as being incomplete in a long letter to the applicant’s consultant, the LA Group, dated October 18, 2010.
The DEC water-related permits are completely separate from the APA permit. Indeed, the DEC letter states that only after the water applications are deemed complete and published to allow for public comment, and only after those comments are analyzed can the department judge whether or not to hold a separate DEC public hearing on ACR water issues. So, even if APA issues a permit, ACR is hardly home free. Mr. Foxman noted this in recent interview. Then, there are the necessary Industrial Development Agency hearings required before the IDA can issue the private revenue bonds to build the sewer and water systems, but that’s a whole other story.
The contents of that DEC letter have long been eclipsed by the APA public hearing, but they are significant. For one thing, the department seems very concerned about the applicant’s stormwater pollution prevention plan (so-called “SWPPP”) as well its wastewater treatment plant proposed just south of Cranberry Pond. As much as possible, DEC seems to want ACR to dispose all its sewage effluent in the Village of Tupper Lake’s sewage treatment plant, and not on site. During 2010, DEC developed new stormwater standards based on a policy of non-degradation of receiving waters. In other words, Tupper Lake can not receive more pollutants from storm and sewage runoff after developing the ACR than it receives currently without the ACR development. And there is the question of current conditions. How is change measured? DEC is not comfortable with the adequacy of current water quality data – as a baseline for measuring change in the watersheds affected by the ACR. DEC may demand that Mr. Foxman conduct a thorough baseline examination of current water quality conditions in the streams and “receiving waters” such as Cranberry Pond and Tupper Lake.
Of the applicant’s August 2010 stormwater plan update (SWPPP), DEC writes that the applicant’s plan is “inadequate for addressing stormwater runoff from the proposed development….the significance of the post construction stormwater discharges and the extent of the proposed changes to the natural conditions of the drainage area raise a concern to prevent the receiving waterbodies from potential impact. The plan is not presenting any water quality analysis, water balance analysis, or downstream analysis particularly to the most immediate water courses feeding to the down gradient streams or lakes. Discharges to small lakes and headwaters in the stream network raise the question of cumulative impact of the development on these types of waters. The primary concern is the impact of increased flow volume and nutrients due to runoff from new development.”
So, DEC has a long list of technical issues the applicant must address for stormwater, including new design standards, reducing the total amount of runoff, and greater use of “green infrastructure” to handle the runoff. To further quote from the twenty page letter: “Due to the large areas of steep slope being disturbed as part of this project and the number of sensitive receiving waters located at the project site, the individual SPDES (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit is going to require the owner to hire a dedicated erosion control team whose primary role will be repairing, maintaining and upgrading the erosion and sediment control practices that will be used at the site.”
This part of the DEC letter is interesting because it seems to conflict with the APA staff’s conclusion that Mr. Foxman has avoided building on steep slopes, and that “implementation of proposed grading, drainage, site layout, erosion and sediment control, on-site wastewater treatment, road and stormwater plans will serve to protect soil, surface water and groundwater resources” (APA Draft Conditions). Those APA draft conditions merely note in one sentence that the applicant has to comply with updated DEC stormwater runoff design standards.
There are a host of sewage related concerns in the DEC letter. First, the letter states that the applicant has yet to provide engineering details about how the new sewage plant would operate, or the wetland treatment system downstream of the plant which the applicant says will “polish” the effluent. Second, DEC feels the applicant has yet to evaluate alternatives to the current proposal to send some sewage to the village plant, send some to a new plant to be constructed above Cranberry Pond, and build septic tanks and leach fields for about half of the 39 proposed Great Camps. Alternatives are “a critical component of the Department’s review because the Department must ensure that the project conforms to the State’s water quality anti-degradation policy…At this time, it appears that connection to the municipal sewer system remains a viable alternative.” The letter notes that one new proposed plant near Cranberry Pond, designed to treat up to 150,000 gallons per day of sewage, is not the preferred solution. A new on-site sewage system should be “the treatment option of last resort. Due to phosphorus in the wastewater, subsurface discharges are the preferred alternative.”
The letter notes this concern: “Phase 1 of the proposed development is anticipated to generate 12,448 gallons per day of sewage. The Department is concerned that during low occupancy periods, the wastewater treatment plant will experience flows well below this rate and will have difficulty operating properly. Please provide an evaluation of how the plant will perform during periods of low flows and also during cold weather periods.”
DEC is very concerned about long pipes or mains serving infrequently occupied residences far from the source of water or the treatment of the sewage. Having sewage, for instance, sit for long periods in the long, small diameter force mains and grinder pump stations necessary to reach some of the Great Camps will result in serious operation and maintenance problems, the letter notes. Only when the DEC is convinced that there is no possible on-site septic opportunities for all of the Great Camps will it allow this type of sewage development, it states. At present, ACR plans to sewer the 15 western Great Camps because, in APA’s opinion, bedrock makes it infeasible to develop septic systems there.
“There are inherent operational problems in running long water supply mains” to serve the Great Camps, the letter states. DEC concerns are that water stagnates in these long pipes, and that this stagnant water will lack contact with chlorination or other disinfectant agents, and that secondary chemical byproducts could form in the water. DEC recommends that no Great Camps be served by the project’s water district, and all be served by on-site wells. This recommendation appears to conflict with the current proposal that has gone through the APA hearing, whereby at least 15 western Great Camps are planned to be served with public water supplies.
One could go on and on. APA still has received no septic system plans for many of the Great Camps, and many of these may not be feasible to be built. Impacts on Cranberry Pond from sewage effluent, from stormwater runoff and from use for snowmaking are very much up in the air. Many citizens are worried about all of the pharmaceuticals that ACR residents will flush down their toilets, which will end up untreated in Tupper Lake and Cranberry Pond.
Then, there are unanswered questions about how any of the ACR’s sewage will get to the Village treatment plant. While Village officials and DEC seem to agree that the recently upgraded Village Sewage Treatment Plant has sufficient capacity to handle ACR, the sewer collection system will need a major upgrade to get ACR sewage to the plant. A new four-six inch force main will have to be built under the Rt. 30 causeway across the Tupper Lake marsh, and DOT is adamant not to dig up the road again. Outside of the road, one side is Forest Preserve, and all is freshwater marsh. Mr. Foxman had the chance to put a new force main in when Rt. 30 was freshly dug up in 2006-2007, but refused to pay for it. A new main will be needed at Wawbeek Street. Then there are the necessary upgrades to the pump stations and gravity lines.
To sum up: DEC now requires far lower biological oxygen demand in waters receiving sewage effluent, meaning that treatment must remove much more of that demand before downstream release. How, in the cold Adirondack climate with strung-out infrastructure on and far beyond Mt. Morris will ACR achieve this? DEC requires more precise water quality measurements before development takes place to measure “non degradation of receiving waters.” When will ACR conduct these measurements? Through the DEC applications, the stormwater run-off performance of all of ACR’s housing and roads will be subjected to individual scrutiny. Meanwhile, there may be significant differences between what APA considers approvable, and what DEC deems sufficient from a water quality perspective. The public won’t learn much about all this during the APA’s current permit deliberations. But the other shoe, taking the form of costly final DEC permit submissions and possible hearings, will eventually drop.
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