Amid a shoreline moratorium, a marina lawsuit and a dam repair, state sponsors lake planning effort
By Ry Rivard
From winter 1989 through fall of 1990, Upper Saranac Lake was covered in algae, spoiling the lake for residents and tourists alike.
The problems, blamed on pollution going into the lake from a nearby fish hatchery, set off a scramble to clean up and monitor the lake, one of the most visited in the interior of the Adirondack Park. In the years since, the state-run fish hatchery has cleaned up its act, following a lengthy legal battle, and there haven’t been major algal blooms.
But other recent events suggest the lake is now due for another reckoning over how it will be used. With state help, watershed stewards are working toward new planning guidelines to protect the lake.
Early this year, the Town of Santa Clara, which surrounds much of the lake, placed a moratorium on commercial developments. Town officials hired a consultant to figure out new zoning rules for commercial projects in the town.
“It behooves us to get the best advice we can,” Councilman Marcel “Mickey” Webb said in a recent interview.
The moratorium has effectively halted a company’s attempt to upgrade the old marina there, known as Hickok’s.
The new owners of the marina, USL Marina, LLC — who are also tied up in litigation over a pair of marinas they own and want to expand on Lower Saranac Lake — are suing the town, arguing Santa Clara officials are illegally failing to consider plans to upgrade the Upper Saranac marina.
The town has yet to file a substantial reply to the lawsuit.
Upper Saranac is the largest of the lakes in the Saranac Chain of Lakes.
The lawsuit and the town’s rethinking of its development rules are only one in a series of changes happening around the lake.
The Upper Saranac Foundation is working to get together money to shore up an aging dam at the end of the lake, which was the site of emergency repairs in 2018.
Meanwhile, a larger plan for the lake is shaping up in a series of meetings that began in February, thanks to $68,000 the New York State Department of Environmental Protection gave the foundation. The foundation, in turn, contracted with the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute to help develop a new plan for managing the lake. So far, the foundation and the institute have held two in what is expected to be a series of meetings, with a plan expected to be finalized this fall.
The plan won’t be binding, but it could suggest new rules for the lake, like mandatory inspections of boats for invasive species before they get in the lake or speed limits for boats once they are out on the water.
“I think that the plan itself will not put forth an ordinance, but it would encourage the municipalities to maybe work together,” said Zoe Smith, the watershed institute’s deputy director.
This plan would be part of the “constant vigilance” that the lake needs, said Dan Kelting, the head of the watershed institute.
Kelting said there are a series of threats facing Upper Saranac, including road salt that is changing the lake’s chemistry, climate change and invasive species.
The last management plan for the lake was crafted over 20 years ago.
“The management plan is not a regulatory document, but it is could help us persuade government agencies, based on the work we’ve done in the background, to follow some of the guidelines, or at least consider them,” said Guy Middleton, the Upper Saranac Foundation’s lake manager.
The last plan for the lake urged someone to create a lake manager position — the job Middleton now holds.