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Newton Falls sewer work will begin soon

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NEWTON FALLS — Solving the hamlet’s long-standing sewage problems has become paramount, with emergency improvements planned for this fall in anticipation of the permanent shut-down of Newton Falls Fine Paper.

“The mill’s going to stop accommodating Swill Hill,” said Dianne M. Goldie, a resident whose house is hooked to the mill’s sewage treatment system. “There’s going to be a delicate situation.”

About 15 houses in the hamlet are part of the system the mill used for its own dirty water. One area of the hamlet earned the nickname of Swill Hill.

“On a hot day, you can smell it,” Ms. Goldie said.

A plan has been in the works since 2007 to build a system that would handle all of the hamlet’s 130 potential users.

“A majority of the on-site systems are failing,” said Dustin J. Clark, an engineer with the consulting firm of Barton & Loguidice, Watertown. “That’s been demonstrated consistently over the last 20 years.”

Small lot sizes and bedrock make it difficult for individual septic systems to work.

Funding has been secured for construction next year of the $4.3 million hamlet-wide system from grants, principal forgiveness, and an interest-free loan from state and federal sources. The design is being adjusted since the mill’s closing will reduce the size needed. The projected initial annual cost per user remains at $577, Mr. Clark said.

“I think it will go forward, no problem,” said Charles R. Hooven, who was appointed Clifton supervisor in August. “Everybody involved seems to think this is the best way to go.”

The work could not come soon enough for Nicole L. Knable and Blake R. Peabody, who bought a house that had stood vacant for years, little knowing the problem that awaited them. The house on County Route 60 toward the end of the line operated by the paper plant was once the mill’s guest house, Mr. Peabody said.

Almost immediately, the couple faced a sewage backup in the cellar that spread to their kitchen sink and overflowed a toilet.

“It ruined a lot of things,” Mr. Peabody said.

A rented drain cleaner had little effect while the family used buckets for toilets, so Mr. Peabody dug a 4-foot-deep trench until he found the exterior pipe and broke it so the sewage could drain out of his house.

“It’s slowly receding,” he said.

Perhaps more frustrating than the sewage backup was finding help.

“The town said it’s the mill’s problem,” Mr. Peabody said. “The mill said it’s the town’s problem.”

They called St. Lawrence County Public Health, the state Health Department, the Adirondack Park Agency, the DEC and wrote letters to politicians.

On Tuesday, they received a letter from Clifton attorney Marcia L. LeMay that a temporary holding tank would be put in place pending installation of the new system.

Mr. Peabody’s problem is probably caused by a blockage in the pipe, Mr. Clark said.

“It’s one of many issues in the system,” he said. “This is a hurdle but we’ll accommodate it. Now it becomes an emergency improvement.”

The 10,000-gallon tank will be used somewhere in the permanent system, Mr. Clark said.

The paper mill remains open but not operating as liquidation of its equipment continues.

A spokesman for its parent company, Scotia Investments, Halifax, Nova Scotia, did not return a call. The DEC has not yet received a closure plan, due at least 60 days before its implementation, DEC spokesman Stephen W. Litwhiler said.

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