Editorial: Water Quality First, Pools Later

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Old cesspools and septic tanks are a serious threat to the health of the Peconic Bay system, leaching nitrogen even when they are working properly into groundwater that inevitably finds its way to the bays.

The Harbor Committee of Sag Harbor is one of the guardians of water quality in this region. At its monthly meeting last week, the panel dealt with two wetlands cases that involved failing septic systems — an issue that the property owners did not seem to consider of much concern.

One applicant wanted a pool and promised to replace a septic system for a backyard cottage when it failed completely. She can’t afford an upgrade now, her representative told the board.

Another wanted to build an addition to his house, have a wetlands buffer half the width currently required under the village code, and, in exchange, as a quid pro quo, offered to upgrade his septic system— which currently needs to be pumped out once a month — to a new nitrogen-reducing active system.

The Harbor Committee politely but firmly, even courageously, let it be known it is not inclined to barter away the health of the bays. It hasn’t made a final decision in either case, but its members curing the discussion on each case resisted treating septic systems as mere bargaining chips.

There are things the board has no authority to require, noted committee member John Parker, “but there are things we cannot allow.”

The committee, by the way, will have more leverage to require septic upgrades if the Village Board of Trustees adopts its new proposal to require nitrogen-reducing systems for new construction and any time a conventional system needs to be replaced. The public hearing on this much-needed change to the village code is set for January 8.

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