Earlier this year, both East Hampton and Southampton towns passed laws requiring the use of new wastewater treatment systems instead of conventional septic systems in many applications before them. East Hampton’s law is the stricter of the two, requiring the systems, which greatly reduce the amount of polluting nitrogen entering the groundwater, be used in all new construction and major renovations throughout town. Southampton Town’s law, while tougher than current Suffolk County standards, only requires that the new systems be used in high priority areas. Those are designated as areas where it takes the groundwater — and the pollutants it carries — up to 2 years to reach surface waters, such as bays and coves.
Straddling the border of both towns is the Village of Sag Harbor, which is conveniently exempt from the requirements of the new town laws. But recently, members of the village Harbor Committee, which has jurisdiction over wastewater systems, have proposed that the village adopt its own version of a septic upgrade law. And why not?
Both towns offer generous rebate programs for homeowners installing the new systems. That’s an attractive carrot for town residents, and one that is available to village residents as well. But a law requiring village residents to follow guidelines similar to those in the towns would serve as an effective stick, compelling them to do the right thing for the environment, not just their pocketbook.
Of the two laws on the books, we would recommend the village adopt one that would mirror East Hampton’s law by requiring the new wastewater systems throughout the village, not just in high priority areas. Besides, most of the Southampton side of the village is considered high-priority anyway, and town officials there say they would consider offering rebates to village residents outside of the priority area, provided there is enough funding available. With the town earmarking 20 percent of its robust Community Preservation Fund revenues to water quality, it is highly probable there will be plenty of money to go around.
As a waterfront community that derives much of its charm — not to mention economic activity, from its sparkling bay and serene cove — Sag Harbor should be a leader when it comes to protecting its natural resources. And this would be a simple, but meaningful step that could pay substantial dividends.