By ANDREA VanVALKENBURG
---- — LEDGERS CORNERS — It was another rough winter for some residents of Ledgers Corners.
The small, close-knit community in the Dannemora hamlet near Chazy Lake not only battled the record-breaking North Country winter but a second frigid season without safe drinking water.
“It’s been a nightmare,” said Cheryle Saltmarsh, who shares a home with Jeff King on the corner of Route 374 and Plank Road, the area where several houses have been affected by salt contamination believed to be linked to a nearby New York State Department of Transportation salt shed.
“We still do not have water. It’s ridiculous we have to deal with this.”
After more than a decade of local suspicion about the source, an official state investigation into the contamination was launched in early 2012. About four dozen wells have been tested so far.
According to a DOT report filed with the town last month, 18 of the sampled wells had high levels of chloride (a form of salt), two contained unacceptable levels of coliform bacteria, and three showed detectable levels of cyanide, reportedly an inert form contained in a compound that prevents caking in salt.
A map tracking the study shows the location of 77 wells, with 25 property owners failing so far to reply to the sampling request, six denying access and at least eight with results pending.
Officials said the well at the DOT sub-residency shed was also sampled, with the sodium and chloride levels coming within acceptable limits.
Testing — with the Clinton County Department of Health conducting tests outside the DOT’s sampling area — continues, with at least two dozen other properties, mostly summer residences, still unchecked.
“They’re not moving fast enough,” said Saltmarsh, who helped organize neighbors in search of answers and a solution.
“We’re making some progress, but it’s been really slow.”
WATER DISTRICT EYED
While many of the residents are still forced to make do with bottled water and they draw bulk water from the DOT facility or a nearby spring, state and local officials are working toward a permanent solution to the growing problem.
After reviewing reports from Shumaker Engineering, which was hired by DOT to do the testing, officials now say the preferred long-term solution is to extend the waterline from Clinton Correctional Facility in the Village of Dannemora and establish a water district to serve the affected area.
DOT, however, cannot create a water district, as state law allows only local governments to do so.
Dannemora Town Supervisor Americo “Ves” Pivetta said it’s still too early to comment on any possible answer to the issue.
”The study is still going on ... We can’t do anything until the state has their plan. Until then, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
State, county and local officials are still working to define the boundaries of a possible future district and trying to compile financial estimates.
For the affected residents, the idea of a district brings a new batch of unanswered questions.
“You can’t form a water district until you know where the contamination is, and we still don’t know (everyone who’s affected),” Saltmarsh recently told the Press-Republican.
“And we’re still waiting for them to tell us how much this is going to cost. This isn’t the town’s problem ... DOT needs to pay for this.”
While still frustrated by what she calls a lack of information and cooperation from state officials and the slow progress of the investigation, Saltmarsh applauded the efforts of Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) for their ongoing support of the Ledgers Corners community.
And until a permanent solution is finalized, Saltmarsh and others must continue to cope with the daily challenges of having unsafe and non-potable private drinking water that they say have ruined household appliances and caused serious damage to several properties.
Last year, a pipe burst in the Saltmarsh and King’s basement while they were away for just a few hours, resulting in more than 3 feet of standing water, she said.
And because salt eats through the glue that bonds PVC pipe and other more exotic plumbing alternatives, said King, they don’t have alternatives other than replacing the pipes as corrosion takes its toll.
Other appliances connected to the water supply, such as their washing machine, have an extremely high rate of failure, and washed clothes are never truly clean, they said.
“It’s ridiculous we still have to deal with this,” Saltmarsh said. “We’ve got 20-plus homes affected already ... and it’s spreading.”
— Contributing Photographer Gabe Dickens contributed to this report.