JULIE SHERWOOD for the Daily Messenger
NAPLES — A sewer plant that looks more like a greenhouse, and operates like one — along with other developments — has earned the Naples mayor recognition by a state organization dedicated to water quality.
In a virtual ceremony last month, Mayor Brian Schenk received the Frank E. Van Lare Award of New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA). The annual award recognizes the contributions of an elected official that supports environmental projects, especially those focusing on water quality preservation and management.
People tour the new Algaewheel sewage treatment plant in Naples before a ribbon-cutting ceremony in October 2020.
When Schenk took office in 2013, private septic systems were a well-documented source of pollution to the Canandaigua Lake watershed. The lake is the source of drinking water for more than 70,000 people and just a few miles from the village that has streams running through it and flowing into the lake. Naples is surrounded by wetlands significant to wildlife habitat, and home to Naples Creek, spawning ground for the lake’s rainbow trout population.
In 2019, the village broke ground on an $11 million green-technology wastewater treatment project. That was after unsuccessful attempts had been made for years to convert the village to a public sewage system — for environmental as well as economic reasons.
The village was “in a position where microbreweries, distilleries, restaurants, and food manufacturers who expressed a desire to locate their operations in the community were failing to come to fruition due to the lack of public sewer infrastructure,” stated the NYWEA.
“After three decades, 12 empty storefronts, and multiple attempts to develop a project that addressed the issue at a reasonable cost, the Village Board along with community stakeholders successfully developed, engineered, and funded a phased approach and solution to the issue,” the statement continued.
The sewage treatment plant, Algaewheel, developed by Onewater, operates as a self-sustaining ecosystem that uses daylight, in combination with the mutually symbiotic relationship between algae and bacteria. Steve Kingsland, OneWater chief operating officer, said Schenk called him in 2016, eager to pursue Algaewheel for Naples.
The NYWEA also praised the mayor for success in other water-quality areas. That includes coordinating efforts on water utility upgrades and on flood plain management. The NYWEA highlighted the mayor’s role in expanding and fostering “partnerships with community stakeholders, the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association, Ontario County Soil and Water and others to develop and execute water quality projects.”
The Algaewheel plant is expandable to handle more volume as customers are added in future phases of the project that will bring the entire village online.
Where does the project stand?
The first phase of the project, including restoration to lawns and sidewalks, is expected to be complete by the middle of this summer, Schenk said last week. The first phase connects about 66 percent of village properties that cover households and businesses along Main Street (Route 21) and a number of properties on streets off Main.
The collection system (sewer mains and pump stations) is about 70% completed. Most of the remaining work involves areas within the state Department of Transportation rights- of-way and drilling across state roads. Schenk said those crossings are not permitted in the off-season. Lateral connections to homes and businesses are about halfway done with roughly 100 connections remaining. According to the mayor, those remaining connections can’t be made until the collection system is finished.
How much the sewer system will cost users is still up in the air. The cost of hook-up is covered in the overall cost of the project. Users will be charged a fee based on usage.
An initial estimate projected that a single-family household would pay about $600 annually. Schenk said the current projection is $634 annually, in part because the village may be forced to relinquish some percentage of grant funding if the village completes the project under budget.
The Village Board is working on finalizing a sewer charge structure. The board “continues to gather feedback from the community generated from two recent public hearings and we hope to present a final draft on the issue by March 17,” Schenk said.
The NYWEA award was named for a Monroe County resident and local elected official, Frank E. Van Lare, former Rochester city councilman and a state senator, in recognition of his contribution to the development of the State Pure Waters Program.