Lake Source Cooling Debate Heats Up

Town Board opposes DEC permit proposal...

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By D.W. Nutt via The Ithaca Journal, 11/13/12

The Lake Source Cooling debate has heated up again.

The Ithaca Town Board passed a resolution Tuesday opposing a proposal by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to modify Cornell’s permit for their Lake Source Cooling facility.

Last month, the DEC announced the university would fund a $2.1 million water-quality study of Cayuga Lake. The study could last up to five years, and once completed, the DEC would use the study’s findings to determine the amount of phosphorus that can be safely discharged into the lake as part of the university’s State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

The DEC is accepting public comments on the draft discharge permit until Friday. The town board plans to send its resolution to the DEC.

The draft permit would allow significantly more phosphorus to enter the lake, said board member Rich DePaolo, because it would cap effluent discharge at 6.4 pounds per day for an interim period, and at 4.8 pounds per day after the study has concluded.

While there are currently no effluent limits in place, DePaolo said that average discharge of phosphorus from the Lake Source Cooling plant is 2.78 pounds per day and rises to 4.56 pounds per day during the summer months, based on data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s ECHO database.

“The DEC is allowing them to increase their discharge,” he said.

DePaolo also said there is an inherent conflict of interest in the plan because Upstate Freshwater Institute, which will be creating the water-quality model, has a long association with the university.

“There is a likelihood that their predisposition towards defending the Lake Source Cooling project will not yield the most objective analysis,” he said.

The special meeting to review the permit was attended by Gary Stewart, director of community relations at Cornell University and a Town of Ithaca resident, who voiced concerns that “a resolution of this import is being kind of crafted piecemeal.”

He said that Cornell had only just learned about the special meeting on Monday and that the university had offered to brief the board about the permit process on Nov. 1.

“I just don’t think this is a good way to do business,” Stewart said.

“The reason we have to move very fast,” said Town Supervisor Herb Engman, “is because after at least a decade of talking about changes to the possible SPDES permit, all of a sudden it came out in the paper that there was going to be this proposed permitting system set up, so we just didn’t have the time, quite frankly.

“And it would have been nice if Cornell had contacted us to say that they were conspiring behind our backs to get this system going with the DEC.”

Engman cited a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the DEC, dated Oct. 11, that said discharge from the Lake Source Cooling facility contains phosphorus in amounts that may cause or contribute to an excedance of water quality standards.

“Cornell has never admitted that they are contributing phosphorus to the south end of Cayuga Lake,” said Engman. “That has got to change. And the place to change that is the permitting procedure so we can have an independent study of what’s really happening in the lake.”

“This is a red-letter day because it’s a clear message to the state and federal environmental authorities that the localities are not going to accept this proposed permit,” said Walter Hang, a resident of Ithaca and president of Toxics Targeting. “This is not the end. This is just the beginning of a very tough fight.”

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