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Septic repair program targets households near Black Lake, waiting on funding from the state

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MORRISTOWN — In an attempt to mitigate the contamination of Black Lake, the St. Lawrence County Planning Office is applying for a state grant to repair faulty septic systems for low- or moderate-income households in Morristown and Macomb.

Focusing on the region within the Indian River watershed that feeds into the Black Lake, the program, if approved, will target year-round residences and could mean about 32 households will undergo septic system upgrades.

Matilda M. Larson, with the St. Lawrence County Planning Office, said it is applying for $400,000 through the state’s Office of Community Renewal Community Development Block Grant program.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that your well systems work and your septic systems work,” Ms. Larson said, adding that the program will “also help improve water quality in Black Lake” by limiting the amount of septic waste that runs off into the water.

Phosphorous, which can get into surrounding bodies of water from leaky septic systems, encourages the growth of invasive weed species in Black Lake and can lead to algae blooms, Ms. Larson said.

With a Dec. 20 deadline for filing the application, she said, she is attempting to enlist community support to help persuade the state to fund the project.

“It is a very competitive process,” Ms. Larson said.

Both the Morristown and Macomb town councils have passed resolutions in support of the project and Ms. Larson said she hopes residents will see the value in the program as well.

She said state officials are “interested in hearing what local residents are going to say about the project.”

Working with the county Soil and Water Conservation District, the planning office is hoping to conduct interviews with people who could be helped through the grant and include their stories in the application.

“We’re looking for letters of support but we’re also looking for people to participate in interviews,” Ms. Larson said.

The program is available to people living in the Indian River watershed who are income eligible.

“A household of two, the maximum you could earn to participate in a project like this would be $36,400. For a household of four it goes up to $45,500. A household of six, $52,800,” Ms. Larson said.

So far, the public response has been underwhelming, but Ms. Larson said the planning office is hoping to move forward as planned instead of waiting for another round of funding or attempting a scaled-back program.

Ms. Larson said because turnout was lower than was hoped for at the public hearings held in Morristown and Macomb on Monday night, the planning office is going to send out mailings to eligible households to solicit participants.

One potential reason for people being skeptical about the program is concerns that repairing their septic system could lead to a higher assessment on their property. But Ms. Larson said assessors already assume everyone has a working septic system.

“This should be an in-kind process,” she said. “You should not see a change in your assessment.”

Repairs to septic systems on rental properties would require the landlord pitch in 25 percent of the cost of the project, Ms. Larson said.

If the program receives funding, Ms. Larson said, construction could begin as soon as summer 2014 with Morristown and Macomb each putting up $1,500 to help cover the mileage costs and wages of the county workers putting together the application.

Ms. Larson said anyone interested in learning more about the program or talking to the Soil and Water Conservation District about household needs can call 386-3582.

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