Kathleen Suozzo’s work is at the heart of one of the more difficult issues facing the Adirondacks today: upgrading aging waste-water and drinking-water treatment facilities in small communities where the cost is borne on the backs of local residents, though the heaviest usage is when tourists and seasonal residents come to visit. At stake are the lakes, rivers, and streams of the region.
“After the summer tourists leave, we have infrastructure we need to maintain,” says Suozzo, an engineer who lives in Bolton Landing. She commends the people who work on skeleton crews managing the facilities and “just do what needs to be done.”
In its 2016 report “Clean Water Infrastructure in the Adirondack Park”, the Adirondack Council identified twenty-two facilities in the Park in need of upgrades totaling $100 million. And the state has recently awarded grants to towns and villages in the Park to improve clean water, drinking water, and sewage treatment, including Lake George, whose Million Dollar Beach has been dogged by contamination for years.
Water and waste-water are a family business for Suozzo. Her son, Mark, and his wife, Khar, plan to join her new engineering firm in Bolton Landing. And her husband, Jim, now retired, lends some expert advice here and there.
“The dinnertime conversation can get obnoxious,” Suozzo jokes.
Right now, Suozzo is working on two large projects — the Lake Placid drinking-water treatment facility and Bolton Landing waste-water treatment plant, built in 1960 — reviewing the operations, determining which pieces of equipment to upgrade, and writing an engineering report that will provide the backbone for any grant requests. Lake Placid, for instance, obtained grant money to pay for $2.7 million of its $4.5 million project to upgrade water filtration.
For the Bolton project, Suozzo is still evaluating the equipment and how much longer it can be effective in treatment. Meanwhile, she is recommending short-term remedies to be implemented by the town.
Additionally, she has some smaller, residential projects in Bolton and a few she hasn’t started yet.
“Everybody wants to turn on the faucet and the flush toilet,” she says.
Suozzo has been doing this work forty years, since graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as the first woman undergraduate of the environmental engineering program. Her first job in 1977 was for the state Department of Environmental Conservation as a staff engineer — a “dream job,” she calls it, that came during what she says was the heyday of environmental science.
When Mark was born in 1986, she left DEC, and she and Jim started an engineering firm, Delaware Engineering, which did work in the New York City watershed carrying out an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to upgrade treatment plants in the communities there. They created Delaware Operations to help run the plants.
The work included municipal projects in Cooperstown, Oneonta, and Albany, including police and fire stations, and projects with Hartwick and Oneonta State colleges. They sold the company in 2004 and moved to the Adirondacks and started Cedarwood Engineering in North Creek in 2009.
In 2015, Jim Suozzo sold that company and retired. Kathleen retired in August of 2017, but for her, retirement simply meant a lesser schedule.
Last year, she started a new engineering firm under her name to continue working on Adirondack projects and hopes to be certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise in this first quarter of 2018. Her offices are housed in a former ice-cream parlor, The Scoop, on Route 9.
“Retirement is not what it was, you know, shuffleboard,” she says. “You need a reason to get up in the morning and make a difference.”
One of those reasons is encouraging and working with young people.
She sees a growing interest in protecting the environment, she says, much like the heyday of the 1970s when the first Earth Day was organized. “I think we’re seeing a resurgence of that,” she says. And everyone seems to want to protect Lake George. She points to the Fund for Lake George’s first Septic Summit in spring of 2017.
“Lake George is the Queen of American Lakes,” she says. “There’s a reason for that.”