The Department of Environmental Conservation has fined the Village of Saranac Lake $10,000 for a sewage leak earlier this year.

DEC is requiring that half the penalty be paid by Aug. 9 and has ordered engineering review of a sewer pumping station near Lake Colby.

ROCK STUCK

The spill occurred on March 26, said Wastewater System operator Kevin Pratt.

"A rock caught in a sewer pump check valve, causing a system failure that resulted in a sewage spill on the town beach," he explained.

"Both pumps failed, and the lift station overflowed to a manhole located by the beach on Lake Colby."

The system was down for about two hours that day while crews scrambled to find the problem.

"We have an alarm system there, and we responded immediately," Pratt said.

"Once we finally got the pumps out, we disassembled them and put them back together, and they started to pump again."

'LITTLE DEBRIS'

The lift station near the former Niagara-Mohawk building serves sewer collection systems for Old Lake Colby Road, Adirondack Medical Center and the Beachwood area in a western section of the village.

It is one of five lift stations in the village that moves wastewater to the treatment plant a few miles away.

"A lift station pumps sewage to a higher level to get it into the gravity-collection system," Pratt said.

The pump failure caused "very little debris" to be spilled on the town beach, which was cleaned up immediately, Pratt said, and treated with lime.

"I immediately notified DEC. As soon as the problem was rectified, they were also called."

NEW CHECK VALVE

DEC requested that the village install a check valve in the pipe from the beach house to the lift station, so the system won't overflow again.

"It was ordered yesterday," Pratt said Wednesday. "I was actually having the engineer determine what kind of check valve to install and getting prices before the DEC consent order came in."

The additional valve wouldn't necessarily prevent a pump failure like the one on March 26, which was an unpredictable event. But sewage would not overflow onto the beach.

"It would back up into the collection system," Pratt said, "and the check valve will ultimately prevent the sewer from overflowing onto the beach and buy us more time and more capacity if something like this happened again."

ENGINEERING REVIEW

Saranac Lake hired the environmental engineering firm AES Northeast out of Plattsburgh to assess the overall pumping system at what crews call the NiMo station near Lake Colby.

"The engineer is looking over our controls to make sure they are adequate and testing the pumps to determine if they need to be upgraded," Pratt said.

"The pumps were installed five years ago. We just put approximately $27,000 into the station in 2005."

Village Manager John Sweeney received the DEC consent order on July 15. It warrants a fine $10,000 fine, with $5,000 suspended when the village hired the engineer.

BEING PROACTIVE

Pratt said the rock jam is one of those unfortunate things that do happen in wastewater infrastructure.

"Saranac Lake is very proactive trying to prevent these things from happening. We're doing all we can."

Mayor Clyde Rabideau said the village is obligated to pay the initial $5,000 to DEC but expressed confidence in the town manager and sewer treatment plant operations.

"Kevin Pratt is one of the outstanding employees of this village. We do have an extensive wastewater collection and treatment system, and, unfortunately, these things do happen."

E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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