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Sample results show Cayuga Lake harmful algal blooms had high toxin levels

It's not just Owasco and Skaneateles lakes that have had high levels of toxins in their harmful algal blooms. Cayuga Lake's blooms are just as concentrated and just as bad.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation's Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program collects samples of algae as part of its efforts to monitor water quality across the Finger Lakes.

Results from a sample collected on Sept. 20 from the northwestern shoreline showed chlorophyll a levels nearly 40 times the DEC's threshold for measuring a bloom at 995.5 micrograms per liter. Chlorophyll a is one of the indicators the DEC uses to determine a harmful algal bloom. Microcystin, the most common toxin found in blooms in New York state, was found at nearly 12 times the DEC's threshold at 241.43 micrograms per liter.

What is harmful algae and what can it do to your health?

Harmful algal blooms are a kind of bacteria that usually crop up in water bodies during late summer. They can look like a thick pea soup, or like a thin blue-green film of paint on the water's surface, depending on their intensity.

A bloom sample collected on Sept. 26 near Yawger Creek was even worse. Chlorophyll a levels were at 3,977.48 micrograms per liter, 159 times the DEC's threshold. Microcystin were noted to be extremely dense and measured at 782.84 micrograms per liter. That's nearly 40 times the DEC's threshold of 20 micrograms per liter for confirming a harmful algal bloom.

With no watershed inspection program like Owasco Lake has, the information is not as readily available to the public. However, the DEC, the state Department of Health and the Cayuga County Health Department have continued to stress that people and pets should stay out of any discolored water or algal blooms. 

Meanwhile Owasco Lake watershed inspectors report that bloom samples collected Sept. 29 are still showing both microcystin and the neurotoxin anatoxin. A sample collected at the southern end of Owasco Lake near Birge Point showed microcystin at 112 micrograms per liter and anatoxin at 1.83 micrograms per liter. A bloom off of the Owasco Yacht Club also showed high levels of microcystin at 361.8 micrograms per liter. Anatoxin was much lower at 0.15 micrograms per liter.

The latest health department test results show toxins detected in the raw lake water coming into the city of Auburn and town of Owasco's water treatment plants. Owasco showed microcystin at 0.31 micrograms per liter and Auburn showed 0.19 micrograms per liter.  The carbon treatment systems continue to work, however, and no toxins were detected in the drinking water from samples collected on Oct. 9. 

Auburn City Council sets public hearing date for zoning code update

AUBURN — Members of the Auburn City Council hope to have a fully updated, easier to navigate city zoning code in place before the beginning of December. 

City staff has been working with Bergmann Associates to overhaul the city's outdated zoning code, which has not had a major update since 1991. During Thursday's Auburn City Council meeting, Kimberly Baptiste, a practice leader at Bergmann Associates, and city planning staff highlighted the major changes to the code in a presentation to the city council. 

Baptiste said the city's previous code was poorly organized and difficult to navigate. The new code has been condensed, from a dozen different articles down to eight, and has been updated to conform with all the necessary laws, regulations and best practices. 

The code will feature easy-to-read tables that will allow people to find the regulations required for a specific type of property. 

"This is kind of a one-stop table to kind of get a picture of what is and isn't permitted in each of the zoning districts," Baptiste said.  

The updated code will be a hybrid mix of Euclidean, or traditional, and form-based zoning code. Most of the city will follow the traditional code, which separates land based on uses, such as residential and commercial. But downtown Auburn will follow the form-based code, Baptiste said, which focuses on the overall design, look, appearance and layout of a site. 

"Form-based zoning is less reliant on land use and more reliant on the physical character of a building or site," she said. "You care less about what's happening inside the building and you care more about how that building relates to the streetscape." 

The new code also features different zoning districts. Senior Planner Stephen Selvek said buildings that were under one district in the past and will now be in a new district with new regulations will not have to change to comply with the new code. They will be listed as a "preexisting nonconformity until the point that use is abandoned," Selvek said. 

Although a public hearing is not required to update the code, council members wanted the public to have the opportunity to voice their opinions of the code before the council votes to approve it on Nov. 16. 

"In the interest of fairness, I believe we should have a public hearing," Mayor Michael Quill said. 

Council members decided during the meeting to schedule a public hearing during the council meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday Nov. 2.

The city is updating its zoning code to better align with the city's Auburn Sparks Brownfield Opportunity Area program, which involves redeveloping downtown and the Owasco River corridor. The BOA program is nearing completion of its second of three phases.  

Jenkin, Pinckney address future of Cayuga County Office Building at candidates forum

AUBURN — The future of the Cayuga County Office Building was among the issues discussed at a televised forum Thursday featuring the candidates for the Cayuga County Legislature District 5 seat. 

Legislators have been considering options, including renovating the current building on Genesee Street in Auburn or constructing a new facility. Estimates indicate that the cost of renovation could be around $11 million. Erecting a new structure could cost more than $25 million. 

One possibility, if legislators decide to construct a new office building, is that it could be built on the county's campus on County House Road in Sennett. 

Legislator Paul Pinckney, who's running for re-election on the Republican and Conservative party lines, believes the county will ultimately decide to renovate its existing building instead of a constructing a new facility in Auburn or outside the city. 

"We'd love to change office sizes and revamp what our needs are, so we thought it would be most important to find out what the needs are and go from there," he said. 

Pinckney's opponent, Melissa Jenkin, who's running on the Democratic and Lake party lines, acknowledged that it's early in the discussions. The county Legislature hasn't decided which option it will pursue. 

But she noted that the top issue in the deliberations will be cost. She also thinks that residents should be engaged in the process. 

"I think we really need to involve the public, get ideas and views, bring that to the table and see what options really are available," she said. 

When asked if the office building should remain in downtown Auburn, both candidates were open to the possibility of moving it outside the city. 

Jenkin and Pinckney also shared their positions on sharing services. The state requested each county to submit shared services plans this year. Cayuga County opted to wait until 2018. 

One area that's usually the focus of consolidation discussions is the number of highway departments. The county has its own highway department and there are similar agencies at the town and village level. 

There are challenges to consolidating highways departments. Pinckney said it's territorial and officials leading those agencies typically don't want to give up their positions. It's also difficult to get an accurate figure on what the cost per mile of plowing and road mowing is in each municipality. 

"We feel it best to bring all the parties to the table again and have this thorough discussion and decide who needs help from the county and who doesn't need help," Pinckney said. 

Another popular target of consolidation is the various assessors at the local level. Each town has an assessor, but it could be consolidated into a countywide function. Tompkins County has a countywide assessment team. 

Jenkin described the difficulty of advancing any plan that would consolidate town assessors into one countywide agency. Municipalities want to remain independent, but she admitted that there would be benefits. 

"Each town knows their own communities and values," she said. 

The candidates also addressed a more political issue: Why their respective party is best to hold the majority of Cayuga County Legislature seats. Democrats currently hold the majority, but Republicans could regain control of the 15-member body with wins in this year's election. 

Pinckney said he and his fellow Republicans want to win back the majority. But he believes that no matter which party is in the majority, legislators need to work together. 

"There's 15 people and we need 15 or a large majority going in the right direction," he said. 

Jenkin thinks the county Legislature has been heading "in really a positive direction" since the Democrats won control in 2015. However, like Pinckney, she thinks the county is better served by members of both parties reaching consensus. 

"I think as the legislature is coming together, I think that's what's best more than anything else," she said. 

The race between Jenkin and Pinckney will be decided on Election Day — Tuesday, Nov. 7. The winner will represent District 5, which covers the towns of Aurelius and Fleming. 

NY voter registration deadline Friday for 2017 election, 2018 primaries

Friday is the last day to register to vote in this year's general election, but it's also the deadline for those wishing to participate in next year's primary elections. 

The state Board of Elections reminded New Yorkers that mail-in voter registration forms must be postmarked by midnight Friday, Oct. 13, and received by the state or local board of elections no later than Wednesday, Oct. 18. 

The in-person registration deadline is Friday. Residents may register to vote at the local board of elections. In Cayuga County, the board's office is located at 157 Genesee St. in Auburn. 

Online registration is an option for those with a MyDMV account through the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The MyDMV website is 

Friday is also the last day current voters may change their party enrollment to vote in the 2018 primaries. New York is a closed primary state, which means that one must be a member of a political party to participate in primary elections. 

Those who aren't registered with a political party won't be allowed to vote in the primary elections. 

For more information, call the Cayuga County Board of Elections at (315) 253-1285 or the state Board of Elections at (518) 474-1953. The state Board of Elections' website is