Robert Blais is believed to be the longest-serving mayor in the United States. He’s retiring at the end of March after 52 years in office
By Paul Post
There’s no riding off into the sunset for the man celebrated as America’s longest-serving mayor.
Robert Blais welcomed “The Today Show” to Lake George on Feb. 20, touting the region’s many attractions to a nationwide audience for the popular NBC program’s “Winter Escape” series.
“This type of publicity is priceless,” said Blais, 86, who’s slated to retire March 31 after 52 years in office. “But it’s never over.”
Many of his most significant achievements on this front have come in the past decade. As chair of a SAVE (Stop Aquatic inVasives from Entering) Lake George Committee, Blais got municipalities around the lake and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to fund six boat inspection stations at key lake entry points. A newly-released report says 9.1 percent of boats coming to Lake George failed to meet the “cleaned, drained and dry” standard last year, the lowest figure since the program’s inception in 2014.
“That’s a pretty huge thing,” said Executive Director Dave Wick of the Lake George Park Commission, which operates the stations. “Honestly, it’s even better than we could have hoped for.”
Subsequently, another inspection was created at a welcome center just below Northway Exit 18, which also intercepts invasive species headed to lakes throughout the Adirondacks.
Wick said the multi-million dollar West Brook Conservation Initiative, which eliminated a major source of harmful storm water impacting Lake George, “would have gone nowhere” without Blais’s involvement. Studies showed that about half of all contaminants entering the lake’s South Basin came from West Brook. Now sediments and pollutants are filtered out in a natural park-like setting with walkways for people to enjoy.
Blais also played a major role in securing a $9.4 million state grant for the village’s $24 million wastewater treatment plant that opened two years ago.
“That never would have happened without the level of gravitas the mayor has in Albany with the (DEC) commissioner and governor’s office,” Wick said. “He’s an unstoppable force, a tremendous catalyst for environmental protection in the region.”
A team player
The self-effacing Blais is quick to share credit with others.
“We’ve had good teams,” he said. “No one could accomplish those things alone. You need a great deal of support and you need that support at every level of government, especially when dealing with the state.”
Lake George is now one of the most protected lakes in the country, with numerous public and private non-profit entities playing different roles.
One of his main regrets is that plans never materialized for an area-wide municipal sewer system. About 20 years ago, plans called for installing lines from Lake George to Bolton Landing, and on the lake’s east side up to Cleverdale.
“We were beaten down by activists who said, ‘No, we don’t want that. You’re going to bring too many people here.’ People came anyway. That was a huge mistake,” Blais said.
The Park Commission is set to launch a septic system inspection program this spring. “There isn’t any question they’re contributing to some of the pollution going into the lake,” Blais said.
Blais also hinted that a day might come when a local law is adopted that restricts boat traffic in the interests of protecting the lake’s priceless water quality. “People love Lake George,” he said. “Just be careful that you don’t let people love us so much that we’re overcrowded and overburdened, loved to death.”