Task force hears from property owners at meeting in Lake Placid
By Zachary Matson
After closing on a property on Upper St. Regis Lake last year, John Donovan noticed the trees on the property were not healthy. Well tests revealed an ugly truth about some Adirondack dream homes.
“Not only was the water undrinkable, it was untreatable,” Donovan said Monday at the Adirondack Road Salt Task Force’s second public meeting, and first time meeting in person.
Donovan’s well tests turned up sodium and chloride concentrations far exceeding drinking standards, including in a well drilled in the past two years. A well over 800 feet deep contained salt concentrations many times healthy drinking standards. The property sits downslope of state Route 30, the type of location susceptible to groundwater contamination caused by road salt.
During the public’s first opportunity to address the task force members, on Monday, Donovan called for sweeping action to protect ground and surface water in the Adirondack Park. He said property owners should be required to disclose salt contamination during a sale and suggested road crews stop using salt. Donovan also pointed to the sparse public attendance at the meeting as an example of the need for more public outreach on the topic.
“If everyone knew their water wasn’t safe or the trees were being harmed, I think the room would be full,” Donovan said.
Peter Lanahan, president of the Lake Clear Association, said salt use on Route 30 was also harming Lake Clear and contaminating the wells of homeowners on the lake. He said Lake Clear residents in recent years have sought the creation of a salt reduction zone along the lake and asked that the area be considered as part of task force’s charge to develop a new reduced salt use pilot program.
“We have a problem and that is what we have tried to explain to people,” Lanahan said.
“You can call it whatever you want but get started by reducing the amount of salt applied around the Lake Clear watershed.”
After its first meeting at the end of February, the task force divided its efforts into four work groups: salt impacts on the environment and public health, best management practices, traffic monitoring and public safety, and training and outreach.
The work groups have been meeting weekly to develop literature reviews, study successful public outreach campaigns and compile the best practices already in use by road crews to reduce salt use.
“The good news is the amount of information that already exists on the impacts and best practices is enormous,” said task force member Joe Martens, a former Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner.
Task force members outlined some of the work they had already completed and their next steps.
The salt impacts workgroup was tasked with developing recommendations for salt reduction targets that would result in “meaningful changes to surface and groundwater quality.” They have started to study how salt runoff affects lake ecosystems, highlighting harm to fisheries and contributions to algal blooms on lakes.
The group focused on best practices was examining the barriers that exist within state and local agencies to implement salt reduction strategies that have been known for years or even decades. Tracy Eldridge, the Hamilton County superintendent of public works, said the state may need to invest in new equipment for road crews. Elridge noted that equipment and roadways are damaged by heavy salt use.
The public outreach group has been looking into how to develop a public education campaign on salt use and its risk, studying examples of successful efforts in New York and beyond. They also hope to streamline the process for reporting salt contamination problems.
Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos chaired the in-person meeting and all but one task force member made it to Lake Placid. Task force members lauded a collaborative process and the commitment of state agencies to address the issue, which has long been mired in state inaction.
“The silos are broken down and we have clear communication and openness and honesty about what the problems are,” said Brittany Christenson, the former executive director of AdkAction.
Tracey Schrader, Harrietstown deputy supervisor and council member, supported Lanahan’s comments about Lake Clear and said she remembers when salt was not used as widely in the Adirondacks. People drove carefully, she said, suggesting the task force consider reducing speed limits in winter conditions.
“I remember vividly my father telling me that you drive for the conditions on the road,” Schrader said. “I remember before the salt.”
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