Challenger to incumbent supervisor suing town over plan to discontinue pond source
By Zachary Matson
The long-running struggle to resolve compliance issues at Ticonderoga’s upland water source, Gooseneck Pond, has flared into a central issue in Tuesday’s town supervisor election.
Frank Sheldon is challenging incumbent Mark Wright and arguing that Wright has failed to find an approach that protects and maintains the town’s historic water source. Wright has been fighting back online, arguing Sheldon is pushing misleading and unrealistic proposals.
Sheldon is also suing the town over its plan to abandon Gooseneck Pond and shift most users to water from a pair of groundwater wells that went into operation in 2019. The shift could leave about 100 users in the Chilson and Eagle Lake area without the municipal water source on which they have long relied.
Wright on Wednesday said he wouldn’t speak about the water situation due to the lawsuit, declining to provide an update on the town’s work to transition from Gooseneck Pond by 2025 and find alternative sources for those users – a target outlined in a 2018 consent decree the town signed with state and federal regulators.
“That’s the position [Sheldon and the other plaintiffs] put us in,” Wright said of not offering an update.
Town officials in recent years have moved forward with a plan to shift most residents who had received water from Gooseneck Pond to wells drilled in a field north of downtown Ticonderoga. Some residents now receiving that groundwater have complained that hard water is damaging appliances and plumbing fixtures.
Bill Grinnell, a former town supervisor who joined Sheldon in the lawsuit filed in October, said in over 70 years of using Gooseneck Pond water he never encountered a problem. Now, the well water is creating corrosion problems, he said.
“That only cost me about $2,500 additional for water softeners and other repairs to my plumbing that has been damaged from the well water,” Grinnell said.
Other Adirondack communities, like Tupper Lake, have also struggled with continued water issues after switching from a surface water to groundwater source.
Ticonderoga historically relied on a system that pulled water from Gooseneck Pond, which mostly sits in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness area well above Ticonderoga, to serve residents in Eagle Lake, Chilson and the northern part of town. Separately, residents in the southern part of town use water from Lake George.
The state Department of Health and federal Environmental Protection Agency pressed the town to improve treatment at the Gooseneck source, where the water was not treated for cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that can cause gastrointestinal problems. After missing a 2014 deadline to improve treatment and facing potential penalties, the town in 2018 signed onto the consent decree requiring it to “fully decommission Gooseneck Pond as a drinking water source” by June 2025.
Engineers outlined plans to bring Gooseneck into compliance, which would require millions to repair a dam, replace large parts of a water main and add a filtration system. But town officials rejected those ideas as too costly. The wells now serve Ticonderoga residents, while town officials and residents are still exploring whether to establish a new water district for Eagle Lake and Chilson. Some residents in that area have voiced concerns about the challenges of drilling wells on rocky and narrow parcels.
Meanwhile, Sheldon has campaigned on a platform promising to save the Gooseneck Pond water source. Sheldon said if elected he would rely on a modification provision in the 2018 consent decree to renegotiate the arrangement with DOH and EPA. He said he would solicit new engineering proposals to repair and maintain the water source at a lower cost, and give residents a chance to vote on a referendum about how to move forward.
“Ticonderoga has got to get good Gooseneck water back,” he said. “[Town leaders] haven’t been willing to say we need to fix it, but we just want to fix it. We don’t need a full blown do-over.”
The complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York was brought as a citizen’s suit to enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act. The suit argues the consent decree “has been wholly ineffective at resolving the town’s clear and ongoing violations” of state and federal drinking water rules. The complaint alleges EPA and DOH failed to provide necessary oversight, and that the Eagle Lake and Chilson residents “will be left to fend for themselves” when Gooseneck is abandoned.
For his part, Wright in social media posts has challenged Sheldon’s assertions and accused him of misleading residents. He has written that his opponent’s plans “make no sense.”
“The fix is too costly, and the quarterly rate would be unaffordable for the few residents served. Professional engineering studies have shown this,” Wright wrote online last month. “Self-proclaimed experts who are, in fact, not experts at all disagree. When they don’t get the answers they like, they say fire the experts.”
Sign up for the “Water Line” newsletter, with weekly updates about pollution, climate change and development’s impacts on the Adirondacks’ lakes, rivers and streams.