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Town of Skaneateles leads watershed plan

SKANEATELES — The town of Skaneateles became the sponsor of a state grant application to map the Skaneateles Lake watershed and its sources of nutrient loading at a town board meeting Monday night. 

Called a Nine Element Watershed Plan, or a 9E Plan, it will model what kinds of pollutants are in the watershed, where they are coming from and where practices could be best implemented to reduce nutrients entering the lake. The Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council is currently working on the same plan.

The watershed model will ultimately allow the town and other stakeholders to be eligible for state funding to implement those practices identified, said Skaneateles Town Attorney Brody Smith. 

Board members utilized a 9E Plan grant application created for Oneida Lake as a guideline document, but amended their funding request from about $375,000 to $500,000. Board member Kevin McCormack said since Skaneateles Lake is a drinking water source for not only the town and village but also the city of Syracuse, it would be worth investing more funds than Oneida County had in its 9E Plan.

Board member David Badami said he wouldn't mind making the request $1 million. Town Supervisor Janet Aaron warned that as part of the grant, the town would be responsible for providing a 25-percent match, though that could be in in-kind services. The Skaneateles Lake Association and the Central New York Regional Planning & Development Board, who are already working on data collection for the lake's 9E Plan, are keeping track of their in-kind hours, Aaron added. 

The board unanimously voted to authorize an application for the 9E Plan not to exceed $500,000 with the stipulation that that number could be changed should the board wish to amend the amount. 

The authorization came soon after Upstate Freshwater Institute scientist David Matthews presented his annual water quality data about Skaneateles Lake. Since 2007 the institute has been studying Shotwell Brook, a tributary in the northeastern section of the lake's watershed, in addition to some spots in the lake proper. 

Matthews said 2017 was a rough year. An increase in flood events contributed to an increase in sediment to the lake. In turn that increased the amount of phosphorous entering the water body, which Matthews said likely contributed to the particularly large and concentrated harmful algal blooms in September. 

"Skaneateles was the last lake I would have expected to have a problem, and it was the last lake to get it," he said of the algal blooms. 

While those blooms shocked the community and the state, Matthews said harmful algae, called cyanobacteria, have always been in Skaneateles Lake. 

"It just wasn't until September this year particularly in the north end of the lake that they were really able to get a foothold and dominate," he said. "Something has changed for them to out-compete the other algae, which aren't as noxious."

The good news, he added, is the lake is still the clearest and one of the cleanest lakes in the state. He was unsure whether the large blooms from last summer were a one-season phenomenon or part of a new pattern. 

Aurora considering activated carbon to combat threat of toxins in water

AURORA — The village of Aurora held a public meeting Saturday to discuss solutions to the threat of harmful algal blooms in Cayuga Lake.

Stephen Waldvogel, of GHD Consulting Services Inc., was present to discuss results of a feasibility study that is being done at the Wells College water plant to see what is needed to retrofit the plant to handle algal toxins in the water. Eileen O'Connor, of the Cayuga County Department of Health, was also present to discuss the situation. Wells College operates the plant that treats water distributed to Aurora residents.

“I understand this is quite a challenging issue for a community like Aurora and the college,” Waldvogel said. “My focus is on the short term, immediate needs to protect the village from harmful algal blooms.”

Microcystin, a type of cyanotoxin, is one of the main toxins that the village is working to prevent from entering its finished drinking water. Microcystin targets the liver specifically and can cause acute and chronic health problems. So far, there have been no detections of the toxin in Aurora's finished drinking water, “but there is a vulnerability here,” Waldvogel said.

The cyanotoxins can cause skin, eye, and throat irritation, as well as allergic reactions and breathing difficulties, O'Connor said.

“We never really worried about Cayuga Lake, until this past year,” O'Connor said. “You had harmful algal blooms in Cayuga lake, and we don’t know what the future is going to bring. The village and Wells college should be prepared for the potential that harmful algal blooms could get into the drinking water."

“We don’t know if any toxins were coming into the treatment plant (last summer when harmful algal blooms were detected in the lake), but we can say that no toxins were in the drinking water when we sampled,” O'Connor said, adding that the health department will be monitoring the water this coming year and is prepared to issue a do not drink order if needed.

It is due to these threats that the village has plans to supplement its current water filtration system, especially because “you can't boil the toxins away,” Waldvogel said.

“Current water treatment systems don't completely or effectively remove all of the toxins,” Waldvogel said, explaining that “when (the toxin) is released from the cell, it dissolves in the water and passes through conventional water treatment.”

Currently the Wells water plant has two diatomaceous earth filters, installed in the 1960s, which are “very porous structures that capture particulate matter,” Waldvogel explained. While effective at removing suspended solids, particulate matter and bacteria, these filters will allow algal toxins to pass through.

While the village is also looking into a longer term solution involving an alternate water supply for the village, that won't be ready for a few years, Waldvogel said. For the short-term, he advised that an activated carbon filter system be added to the water system.

Activated carbon has been found and validated “to be very effective at absorbing small organic contaminants such as mycrocystin and other cyanotoxins,” Waldvogel said.

“One teaspoon full of this black granular substance has the same or more surface area than an entire football field, because it’s so porous. The contaminants are drawn into the pores. … It traps the contaminants and it doesn’t release them.”

Waldvogel explained that a multi-barrier approach is most effective when combating the toxins, so the activated carbon filtration process would begin after the water has already passed through the DE filters, and before the water is treated with chlorine.

Preliminary estimates for the project are $500,000 to $750,000, and Waldvogel explained that GHD will need a joint decision from the community and health department by the end of March to be able to have it done by the target date of Aug. 1.

“It’s almost an identical time frame we had in Auburn and Owasco last year,” Waldvogel said, “so I know we can do it.”

In addition to discussing the short-term issue of protecting the village from harmful algal blooms next summer, the meeting also presented a discussion on the need for a new water supply or treatment plant as Wells is looking to get out of the water business.

“Something long overdue in Cayuga County is a close look at all municipalities' sewer and water systems,” said Doug Selby of the Cayuga County Water and Sewer Authority. “We call it an infrastructure master plan.” 

Selby explained that at least half of the county counts on water supply from Owasco Lake that's passed through Auburn's water treatment plant.

“We’re looking at another opportunity to have a different source of supply that is not Owasco Lake and interestingly enough, as we looked at the Aurora system, Cayuga Lake looks like a prime opportunity for that second source,” Selby explained.

One concept that has been suggested in order to satisfy both a need for a second source of water, and to help the village out, is to construct a new intake in Cayuga Lake that is 100 feet deep instead of the current 20 feet-deep intake and then build a new treatment plant. The plant's first phase would satisfy the needs of the village, but in the future perhaps become a second source of water in case Auburn's system were to ever fail or need a back-up.

The estimate for a new water treatment system is $11.5 million.

Another option involving pipelining eight miles into the Auburn system would cost an estimated $7 million alone.

“The systems you have were done a long tome ago, paid for a long time ago, and they’ve really served you well — long beyond their normal useful life,” Selby said. “We’re continuing to cooperate with the village and the health department.”

Aurora Mayor Bonnie Apgar Bennett said “cooperation between the village, the Inns of Aurora, and Wells has been terrific” throughout the entire process.

She stressed the negative impact on tourism that would likely occur if toxins were to be found in the village's drinking water, saying, “the scare for both the tourism industry and for parents sending their 18 year-olds to Aurora is going to be huge.

“So the reason that this meeting is happening is because we have to solve this problem now,” Bennett said. “What’s going to solve this problem is money, and engineering, and that’s going to hit all of us.”

Bennett said officials are doing all they can to ask for help and resources.

“We will meet again, I’m sure, to make sure you understand what’s going to happen with the algal bloom issue,” Bennett said.

Coming this week: The Citizen Facebook Live interviews with 3 congressional candidates

Three of four Democrats vying for the party's nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. John Katko for Congress will join The Citizen's Robert Harding for Facebook Live interviews this week.

Scott Comegys, an alpaca farmer from Palmyra seeking the Democratic nomination in the 24th Congressional District race, will participate Tuesday, Feb. 13. Comegys will answer questions beginning at 6:30 p.m.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, Democratic frontrunner Dana Balter will answer questions. Balter is a Syracuse University professor.

Another Democratic candidate, Bill Bass, will participate in a live interview beginning at noon Thursday, Feb. 15. Bass is an environmental scientist who recently relocated to central New York. 

As of last week, four Democratic hopefuls have emerged in the race. Balter secured the endorsement of the Cayuga, Oswego and Wayne county Democratic committees at a joint meeting Wednesday in Auburn. Balter was joined at that meeting by candidate Anne Messenger. The committees decided Bass and Comegys lacked sufficient campaign infrastructure to be participants at their event.

All of the interviews this week will be streamed at The video will be archived on The Citizen's Facebook page and posted on

The interviews will last at least 30 minutes and the candidates will not see the questions in advance of the interview.

To submit questions for the Facebook Live interviews, email Robert Harding at

Mark Peck, Great Backyard Bird Count 

A barred owl.

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Inmate says Auburn prison lieutenant waterboarded him, assaulted his genitals

Attorneys for a former inmate at Auburn Correctional Facility have filed a legal petition against the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in which they describe a brutal assault by a corrections officer supervisor.

According to the petition filed Feb. 1, Matthew Raymond was incarcerated at ACF in September 2016 when he was violently attacked by Lt. Troy Mitchell. At the time, DOCCS said an internal investigation revealed Raymond's allegations were "unfounded." However, the case has since reopened, and Raymond is now asking DOCCS to turn over all documentation surrounding his assault. 

The assault allegedly took place Sept. 14, 2016, after Raymond suffered a seizure at the prison. Raymond — who was 28 at the time — had sustained a traumatic brain injury prior to his incarceration for third-degree burglary in 2015, the petition said.

After seeing a nurse practitioner at Auburn Community Hospital, the petition said Raymond was discharged back to ACF's medical unit; he was then shackled and subjected to "a violent assault."

In the petition, the Yonkers law firm of Koob & Magoolaghan said Mitchell slowly dumped a large bucket of water on Raymond's nose and mouth, which was akin to waterboarding. Mitchell then reportedly struck Raymond on and around his face, neck, chest and groin with his fists and a baton, and repeatedly beat and twisted Raymond's genitals.

According to the petition, Raymond did not receive medical treatment for his injuries until January 2017, when he was taken to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. 

"Upon information and belief, Mr. Raymond's medical care providers at Upstate have concluded with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the permanent injuries he has suffered were a direct result of a blunt force trauma to his groin area," the petition said. "As a result, he must now utilize a catheter, and he fears he will need a catheter for the remainder of his life." 

In August, following a nearly identical complaint from another inmate, DOCCS' Inspector General's Office reopened its investigation into the alleged assault, the petition said, and Mitchell, 54, was suspended without pay. 

In response, DOCCS' spokesperson Patrick Bailey confirmed that Mitchell remains suspended as part of an ongoing investigation at Auburn prison; however, Bailey said the suspension was not connected to Raymond's allegations. 

"After a thorough investigation by DOCCS' Office of Special Investigations, the only allegation of Lt. Mitchell and 'waterboarding' was unsubstantiated and, therefore, is not connected to his current status of suspended without pay," Bailey said in an email to The Citizen. "His current case is pending presentation before an arbitrator under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement." 

Meanwhile, Raymond's attorneys filed a request under the Freedom of Information Law in November, seeking all documents, videos and photographs relevant to his assault. In December, DOCCS allegedly denied that request and failed to respond to a subsequent appeal. 

That led to last week's petition filed in state Supreme Court in Albany, which argued that DOCCS' denial was "unreasonable." Raymond's attorneys have asked the court to reverse the department's decision, and to order DOCCS to provide the documentation he requested. 

While DOCCS did not explain the reasoning behind its denial, Bailey said the department has taken measures to investigate all cases and complaints, and typically reviews video, photographs and medical records in addition to physical evidence. 

"This department has zero tolerance for any behavior that jeopardizes the safety and security of our facilities and the individuals who live and work there," he said. "All allegations of abuse are thoroughly investigated by our revamped Office of Special Investigations and those found to be at fault face the toughest discipline allowable under the collective bargaining agreement." 

Raymond — who was sentenced to four to eight years in prison for third-degree burglary in 2015 — is currently incarcerated at Elmira Correctional Facility. He is eligible for parole next year.

Mitchell began his career as a corrections officer with DOCCS in February 1986. He was then promoted to lieutenant in 2006, and his 2016 salary was approximately $97,500. He remains suspended without pay.