Jan 28, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The contentious issue of the formation of new sewer districts around Cazenovia Lake remained contentious last week during a public information meeting attended by more than 100 people at which voices were raised, tempers flared and vast amounts of information was given.
The Jan. 24 meeting, held in the Cazenovia High School auditorium, offered concerned and curious lakeside residents an opportunity to question the town board, town attorney and town engineer on the particulars of the proposed plan to improve the water quality of the lake by creating multiple sewer districts and thereby eliminating individual septic systems in lakeside neighborhoods.
Numerous questions were posed to the assembled town officials regarding the proposed project’s underpinnings, intentions, specific location(s), legality and, above all, cost — with many residents concerned that the total preliminary $8 million price tag will not only multiply their taxes but ultimately make their homes so unaffordable they will be forced to move.
After two-and-a-half hours of discussion, the town board’s bottom line response was that the ultimate decision to construct new sewer districts was entirely up to the residents themselves. Under the decided-on process, the residents must submit a petition to create the new districts and in that petition they can limit the parameters of the sewer districts to whatever they want. The town board from there then will decide if the project is even feasible.
“Our only concern here is for the health and welfare of the lake,” said Town Councilor Pat Race, who acted as moderator of the meeting. “There’s no back-door deals, no hidden agenda, no conflict of interest. If we don’t act the DEC will not let us just keep dumping chemicals into the lake.”
The town board, village trustees, and sewer district officials have been investigating the costs and feasibility of extending sewers into areas of the shoreline. Town Engineer John Dunkle, with Dunn & Sgromo, was tasked in early 2012 with identifying appropriate technologies and costs associated with extending sewers into un-sewered areas. Many shoreline residents responded to an opinion survey last spring. Based on this input, and discussions with the village, Dunkle expanded the scope of his efforts to include supplying public water in addition to sewers into certain areas.
Dunkle spoke at the Cazenovia Lake Association annual meeting in late August, where he explained that the provision of sewer and water infrastructure around the lake shoreline is not a “one-size-fits-all” proposition. Because of density, distances and topography, he evaluated options for providing services to four unique areas: Northeast Lake, West Lake, Overlook Terrace and Owahgena Terrace.
In order to manage such a large project, which will involve detailed evaluation of many parcels, the town board decided to proceed in stages with the hope that the success of the first district will help the remaining property owners make the decision to move forward.
The town board has agreed that the logical first district to be created would be the Northeast Lake Sewer and Water District. This district would enable extending public sewer and water service to approximately 134 properties on East Lake Road, North Lake Road, Mark Lane, Allen Drive, Cazenovia Terrace and Christian Drive. An additional 28 properties on East Lake Road from Wright Road to Hoffman Road, already connected to the sewer, would be served by public water as part of this district.
According to the town, the engineer’s preliminary costs estimates for the Northeast Lake Sewer and Water District are $2.6 million for sewers and $1.7 million for water. If the combined water and sewer projects are financed at 3 percent interest, Dunkle estimated that it will cost each property owner approximately $160 per month (for the 20 year financing option), or approximately $120 per month (for the 30 year financing option). For those 28 properties already on sewers, the cost for water is estimated to be approximately $60 per month for 20 years, or $45 per month for 30 years.
These figures assume that no grant aid is available. Any grants will reduce the costs to the property owners. The town board has said it will work with CACDA, Madison County Planning and the IDA to pursue all options for grant funding.
Three other districts are being considered. West Lake Sewer and Water District would extend public water and sewer to 86 parcels, at a (30 year amortized) cost of $120 per month. The Owaghena and Overlook areas, which are too far from the current water and sewer lines to connect in a cost-effective manner, would create Septic Management Districts, with retrofits and maintenance of their existing individual on-site systems. The monthly fees for the 21 parcels in Owaghena and 55 properties in Overlook (again assuming 30 year borrowing) would be around $40 per household for these two districts.
The town board has said the decision to proceed ultimately rests with the affected property owners, who will finance the districts, and the board’s efforts so far have including assessing whether members of the proposed districts will support the town in pursuing the project.
According to information posted on the town website, the board believes “that public management of wastewater disposal will prove to be cost-effective for the property owners, given the relatively low monthly cost associated with each district.”
The Jan. 24 public information meeting was the next step in the process to evaluate the public opinion on moving forward with the Northeast Lake Sewer and Water District.
“We’re here to see if we can answer some people’s questions, concerns and doubts,” Race said at the beginning of the meeting. He asked everyone to speak with “mutual respect and decorum” during the meeting. “That’s the way we’re going to play it,” he said.
Karen Whipple, a resident of Owera Estates, in the first question of the evening asked the board to respond to accusations of conflict of interest between the town engineer’s firm and a currently-ongoing development project on North Lake Road.
Town Supervisor Ralph Monforte responded that the town planning board is putting out a Request for Proposals from “the engineering world” to hire an engineer for the project, and said that Dunkle will not be the engineer for that project.
Mark Whipple, of Owera Estates, said that Honeoye Lake near Rochester, which is a lake similar to Cazenovia Lake, put in sewer districts 35 years ago and there has been no improvement there in lake quality. “If this is not going to improve the quality of [Cazenovia] lake, how does that help us?” he asked. “We have to foot the bill for this.”
Councilor Liz Moran, who is an environmental engineer, said the two lakes are in “different situations” and she believes the sewer district will improve lake water quality in Cazenovia. “We’re trying very hard to control the sources [of phosphorous and other lake additives] that can be controlled, but in the meantime … septic is a big part of the problem that can be fixed by a modern sewer and water system.”
A number of residents asked if they would be required to connect to the new sewer system even if they already have upgraded and high quality septic systems on their property, to which the town board answered yes, they would be required to connect — and pay for the connection — but would not be required to use it.
Marion Bickford, of Ormond Road, asked why, if new sewers would improve the lake and the entire town benefits from the lake, the entire town population is not paying for the project but only the affected residents in each new district.
Town Attorney John Langey said he has researched and spoken to state officials repeatedly on that issue and state law says that only the property owners who directly benefit from the system can be required to pay. “I’ve checked on that and New York state said absolutely not — it cannot be a town charge,” he said.
Dunkle added, “Everyone who receives a benefit of the infrastructure has to be included whether they want it or not.” He said if it legally benefits a property owner their inclusion is “an unfortunate consequence” of the way state law is written.
“It’s legal, but it doesn’t seem moral,” Bickford responded.
Maggie Feldmeier, of East Lake Road, said, “Everybody cares about the lake, but it’s the cost that is the issue. I think it is too much … For the cost alone I am very much against the project.”
Councilor Bill Zupan said he “fully understands” the concerns over the project costs, and then asked everyone in the room if the sewer system were free, why not improve the lake? “The town board is not going to shove this down anybody’s throats,” he said.
This was a refrain town board members made numerous times throughout the meeting: the formation of the sewer district would be completely based on residents’ agreement to do the project, based on the residents’ petition to the town to create the district. Langey said the board previously had agreed to forego using Town Law 12A, which would force the creation of a district on residents, and instead decided to follow the procedures for public request and approval of the project. He also laid out the series of steps it would take to create the district, all of which could end the project if landowners, environmental and state approvals were not accomplished.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of that,” said attendee Mark Whipple.
Towards the end of the evening, Ron Fox, a resident of East Lake Road, stated he opposed the project and he questioned the town board’s motives in trying to create the sewer districts. He said he could get a majority of the Northeast Lake Sewer and Water District landowners to sign a petition against the project.
“If we can get you 80-plus signatures to cease and desist [this project] will you stop?” he asked the board.
After two-and-a-half hours of discussion, Councilor Pat Race closed the meeting. “We’ll see whether or not we have another meeting,” he said. “And we’ll be expecting that petition.”
Information about the proposed sewer districts can be found on the town website at townofcazenovia.org, both on the homepage and by clicking on the “Caz Lake Water Quality” link.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.