By Kathryn G. Menu
The installation of low-nitrogen septic systems will have to be included in any new construction or major renovation in East Hampton Town, if the town board adopts sweeping legislation it unveiled this week that officials say is aimed at improving water quality in the region.
Town officials also discussed a proposed septic system rebate program, which would operate on a sliding scale and subsidize 100percent of the cost of installing those systems in water protection districts, with additional rebates available for other properties throughout the town. The funding for those rebates would come from money earmarked through the town’s Community Preservation Fund for water quality projects.
“The areas where we have the greatest environmental concern would be eligible for the greatest rebate incentive,” said Supervisor Larry Cantwell during Tuesday’s board work session, at which assistant town attorney NancyLynne Thiele discussed both the mandate for the use of nitrogen-reducing systems and the rebate program.
If adopted, the legislation would make East Hampton Town the first to mandate the use of low-nitrogen septic system technology and the first to develop a comprehensive rebate program for residents through the CPF.
“I think it has become clear, from the work that has been done scientifically, and otherwise, that improving sanitary systems throughout the Town of East Hampton can play a major role in reducing nitrogen that is getting into our bodies of water and potentially threatening our groundwater,” said Mr. Cantwell on Tuesday.
The bills not only target new construction, but also offer incentives for the estimated 12,000 parcels that employ antiquated cesspool systems.
According to Ms. Thiele, the first bill would require all new construction and substantial expansion projects to use the low-nitrogen systems approved by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. Those systems cost anywhere from $15,000 to $17,000 to install. According to Ms. Thiele, under the legislation, a low-nitrogen system would be initially defined as one that has been shown to reduce nitrogen releases to 19 milligrams or less per liter. When the county approves systems that reduce nitrogen to 10 milligrams or less per liter that would become the town’s new standard.
“That is so this law can grow with evolving technology,” she said.
The incentive program would create a multi-tiered system of rebates for the replacement of existing cesspools and septic systems. Property owners in water protection districts could expect 100 percent of the replacement cost up to $15,000 covered through rebates. Those with existing cesspool systems outside the water protection districts would be offered a rebate to cover 50 percent of the cost of replacement up to $10,000, and those who meet the town Housing Authority’s income requirements to qualify for affordable housing would see that rise to cover 75 percent of the cost of replacement, up to $10,000. Property owners who have failing sanitary systems would be eligible for a rebate to cover 25 percent of the cost of replacement up to $5,000.
The rebates could only be used to cover equipment, labor, materials and excavation, said Ms. Thiele, and could not be used for aesthetics like landscaping. The county health department would continue to oversee the permit process for sanitary systems. The town’s Natural Resources Department would oversee the rebate program using money set aside through the CPF for water quality each year, based on the previous year’s total CPF revenue.
Last year, residents in the five East End towns overwhelming supported the extension of the CPF program, which collects revenues through a 2-percent real estate transfer tax. Under the extension, voters also agreed to allow the towns to use 20 percent of each year’s revenue for water quality projects. Based on CPF revenues from 2016, in 2017, East Hampton Town will have roughly $6 million in funding it can earmark for water quality projects, including the rebate program.