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Water quality revitalization efforts continue for Orleans

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COLLINS LANDING — Competition for grants from the state will be approached aggressively for Orleans Water District and water quality projects.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, held a news conference Thursday at the Thousand Islands Winery to assure residents of the Alexandria Bay and Orleans region their local legislators are working actively to enhance the water quality. She said local businesses won’t be leaving the area but staying and thriving.

“I think we’re in a very good place to get this district the funding it needs,” Mrs. Russell said. “We’re in an important phase and we’re excited to move a little bit faster than other communities to get an advantage. I think that spirit has been rewarded in the past in terms of us getting the Regional Economic Council competitions, and this is in that name of being proactive and aggressive to get this system and to beat out other projects we are competing with across the state.”

Mrs. Russell said she hopes to have water district plans “shovel ready” by the time the state reviews the applications in October. She hopes having plans aggressively laid out will give the water project an advantage.

The groundwater in the Alexandria and Orleans area reportedly was contaminated by chemicals such as lead, iron, magnesium and nitrates. The source of the contamination is reportedly from state Department of Transportation salt storage barns that contaminated the water corridor on Route 12 between Alexandria Bay and Fishers Landing.

To achieve the nearly $12 million needed to complete the water upgrades, Orleans Supervisor Kevin R. Rarick said, the town will have to acquire a lot of funding. The town has submitted grant applications to other agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Mr. Rarick said the town has secured $500,000 from the North Country Regional Development Council. Mrs. Russell said she will ask the state for the highest possible contribution of $250,000 to $700,000.

By this time next year, Mrs. Russell said, she hopes the town of Orleans water project will be at the same stage as Alexandria is today. A Times article Dec. 5 said Alexandria was awarded $2.3 million in federal grants and loans to move forward with its Route 12 water project.

At the news conference, Alexandria Supervisor Dale D. Hunneyman said the Alexandria project is moving right along.

“We hope to put bids out by end of June and construction to begin in August,” he said.

To set Orleans apart from other competing agencies across the state, Mrs. Russell said, it needs community members to come out in numbers saying they are having problems with their water.

Thousand Islands Winery owner Stephen J. Conaway said only about 5 percent of area businesses and residents have filed formal complaints and had their water tested. He said filing a complaint has advantages and disadvantages. If a formal complaint is filed with DOT, Mr. Conaway said, it could affect property values, and there would be a statute of limitations for a potential lawsuit against DOT. An advantage to filing a complaint would be if the complaint were formally recognized, it would send a stronger message to state legislators that the people in the region need help.

“There are these processes in place if area residents and businesses are affected. It is important to understand there are legal implications,” Mrs. Russell said. She suggested residents and business owners consult legal counsel or contact her office with any questions.

“This is a complex project because it involves three municipalities and various state agencies,” Mrs. Russell said. “If they have any concerns about this, please use our office as a resource to help you understand what’s going on in the community and about what you might be entitled to in terms of getting water provided. New York state does provide water to affected people in this area.”

“Our businesses are not moving out of the area, particularly here at the winery,” Mrs. Russell said. She said this summer looks as if it will be a busy season for local businesses. She said after the community forum in February, it was rumored businesses were suffering or would have to leave the area because of the contaminated groundwater.

“It’s important to note, particularly at the winery, they are regulated by the Department of Health and the Agriculture. They have been able to secure potable water that is used in all functions of their process here.”

She said at no point is contaminated water that exists under the ground part of the local business’s operation.

For more information, call Mrs. Russell’s office at 786-0284.

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