FULTON – After working to obtain the necessary permits for two years, Fulton began and completed one year of dredging at Lake Neatahwanta.
Within the year, 20,000 cubic yards were dredged from the lake in the area that was formerly known as Stevenson Beach.
For more than 100 years the section of Lake Neatahwanta off of CC W Barret Drive served as a public beach and was even equipped with a boat launch.
“I really want our younger generations to be able to enjoy the beach like I did,” said Fulton Mayor Ronald Woodward. “Some really good things have happened with this project and I’d like the young people to get excited about our lake.”
In 1988, the beach was closed for a variety of reasons.
“There was bacteria and the turbidity of the water was an issue. They would test the turbidity with a stick like object with a disc on the end, it would be placed four feet down and if you couldn’t see the disc, you couldn’t swim,” said Woodward. “In more recent years of course, there has been the issue with blue green algae.”
Woodward explained that the almost 700-acre lake has a large sediment build up. Farm runoff, dirt and leaves enters the lake and the wind brings it forward creating severe sediment accumulation.
For this reason, the lake has become shallower and warmer, both conditions that favor harboring blue green algae.
On top of that, nitrogen and phosphorus levels were much higher than anticipated due to the farm run offs and also accelerated the rate of blue green algae developing in the lake.
The DEC required sampling of the material off the bottom of the lake, a $24,000 investment.
The Health Department sent back the samples labeled as Type A materials, meaning there was no restrictions on use.
“This was wonderful. If it had come back chemical there would not be a lake project. That would simply be too much money. I didn’t mind making the investment for this because now people know, it gave them peace of mind,” said Woodward.
The project then had a clearer view.
The lake was separated into square grids to map out the dredging locations, each grid measuring in at 10,000 cubic yards.
In the past year, the project was able to complete two grids, both found high nitrogen and phosphorus levels.
The project was bid out to the public. Tim Groh with Groh Dredging became the contractor for the project.
Groh Dredging completed the 20,000 cubic yards of muck from the first two grids, located along CC W Barret Drive.
In the dredging process, the water and material from the bottom of the lake is sucked into the geotextile tubes, looking much like large bags.
A polymer is then added to the tubes, separating the liquid from the solid.
The clean liquid is then released from the tube and makes its way back to the lake.
All of the water from the first two grids was found to be not loaded with phosphorus and nitrogen as it was before it was dredged.
Ricelli offered the city $1,000 to take the muck from the tubes.
In 1,428 trips, Ricelli was able to take the 20,000 cubic yards of muck where Northern Ready Mix was able to make top soil from it to sell.
The trips required 10-wheel dump trucks that were only able to be filled half way, as the moisture content was so heavy.
“I like that we were able to recycle it, there’s a use for it so I’d prefer it go somewhere it can be used,” said Woodward.
The goal for the first year of dredging was to be completed by Memorial Day weekend so that the area would be cleaned of all dredging materials and free for the Memorial Day crowd.
This goal was achieved and now new goals are being set.
The overall goal is to have the beach accessible to the public as soon as possible.
This goal may be attainable a lot sooner than people are aware.
“We are going about it strategically, with the primary goal being to get the lake usable for the public. There’s a possibility that the beach will be open for swim before the end of this summer,” said Woodward. “If not, there is no doubt it will be ready for swimmers by next summer.”
The second year will also include the installment of a handicap accessible kayak launch with funding from Senator Patty Ritchie.
The dredging will resume in mid-July, only because they are unable to start dredging until fish spawning season is over. It will continue until snowfall.
The “little lake by the big lake” is about 700 acres large with some of the water belonging to the town of Granby.
However, the city of Fulton owns all public access to the lake including the beach at North Bay Campground.
Granby will be dredging the portions of the lake the town owns, however they have not yet started.
While the project is anticipated to take nearly ten years to complete as the permit allows, there is no exact estimate on how many yards need to be removed from the lake.
There are areas that don’t need to be dredged at all, such as the weed beds.
Although there is quite a ways to go in the project, immense improvements are being made with only one year concluded.
“I was down there recently,” recalled Woodward. “I can see the bottom from where I’m standing now, and I can see quite a ways out. Our project is already making a difference.”
While the first year of dredging cost nearly $230,000 for 20,000 cubic yards completed, funding has been helpful for the city from people such as Senator Ritchie and more than $70,000 raised locally from chicken barbeques, corporate donors, and community involvement.
The Fulton Community Revitalization Corporation developed the slogan “$12.89, just in time” and allowed community members that wanted to help to make the small donation of $12.89, the cost to take one yard of material.
“This way people who want to help but are unable to give a lot can still be involved, promoting community ownership which is what we want,” said Woodward. “The money is put into the account at Pathfinder Bank devoted entirely to the lake project. There is no administrative costs from this account, every cent of it goes to the lake.”
With an estimated cost of $25 million for the entire project, Mayor Woodward feels this is a great investment for years to come in the city of Fulton.
“We no longer have any city pools. It would cost half a million dollars to make the major updates necessary to reopen the east side pool to meet Health Department standards. As a council, we decided it would be more beneficial for more years to come to complete the lake for our public,” said Woodward.
“I think the red tape and the roadblocks that are going to present themselves stop most small governments from taking on projects such as this,” he added. “It’s a big job, but if we don’t start it, it will never get done.”
Woodward also realizes that these are troubling financial times as well.
“Nestles and Birdseye were huge losses for our city. Nestles alone took $22 million per year out of community payroll, while Birdseye took $13 million a year,” he said.
However, Woodward feels that the lake will be more than rewarding for the city, predicting that the city won’t need to worry about the lake for at least another 300-400 years and with proper care, may likely go longer than that.
The condition of the lake was worse than many expected.
“What happens is the dirt, leaves, some dead fish, litter and so forth all settle on the bottom of the lake,” said Woodward. “We pulled out two Model A tires, glass, change, a lot of stuff that shouldn’t have been there.”
Maintenance dredging is an option for future ideas to keep the lake upheld, but it would be limited.
One of the largest problems for the lake was the run off from local farms contributing to the sediment build up. Most of these farms are now gone.
“The DEC would have said no if these farms were still an issue, it would’ve been a never-ending project with all the muck drainage still coming in,” said Woodward.
With these issues resolved and the project under way, Woodward sees nothing but positive things coming for Lake Neatahwanta.
“I love the increased interest in the lake. I always support the vendors at Bullhead and all that happens there, it brings positive attention to such a great focal point of the city,” said Woodward.
With help from “wonderful other groups in Fulton such as Friends of Fulton Parks,” Woodward sees nothing but positive potential for the lake project.
So for now, fishing is allowed, encouraged and completely safe at the lake and the dredging will anticipate continuance in mid-July.
“We are turning a corner here. If everyone can just hang in for a few years, things will get much better. I want to give people a reason to be here. I want to give hope,” the mayor said.