Harbor Committee Calls for Septic Restrictions

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By Christine Sampson

With the village seemingly caught in the middle between new, tougher but differing sets of rules regulating septic systems now in effect in East Hampton and Southampton towns and Southampton Village, Sag Harbor Village’s Harbor Committee has laid out formal recommendations to the village trustees for how it wants the village to proceed with legislation of its own.

“As a board, we believe generally that the village should adopt the most stringent upgrade requirements possible under New York State law,” Harbor Committee chairman John Shaka wrote in a January 9 letter to the village board. “It has become increasingly more evident, with the continued pressure for redevelopment, that the state of the existing sanitary septic systems in the village has become the most predominant threat to the health of our bays and other water bodies.”

After releasing a draft of its recommendations to the village board in November, the Harbor Committee formally listed them during the January 9 village board meeting. They primarily concern the upgrading of old septic systems and the locations of where upgrades are required in proximity to waterways.

First, the Harbor Committee addressed actions triggering septic upgrades, noting the other municipalities’ rules call for septic upgrades whenever “new construction” and “substantial reconstruction or expansion” take place. However, it also noted those terms vary in definition, from “increase in floor area” to “increase in value” of the property.

“For the village, because we have many small houses on small lots, we recommend the triggering requirement be as strict as possible,” Mr. Shaka wrote. “We recommend the percentage increase that would trigger the upgrade be set at 25 percent of the existing structure and that it should be calculated based on both gross floor area and value, whichever produces the greatest percentage increase.”

The Harbor Committee then recommended following East Hampton Town’s rule about requiring septic upgrades no matter where properties are located within its borders, which differs from Southampton Town’s requirement that mandatory upgrades are limited to areas where groundwater takes up to two years to reach bays or other surface waters.

“It stands to reason that nearly all of the village is located close enough to a water body that these innovative nitrogen-reducing systems will have a positive environmental impact no matter where they are situated,” Mr. Shaka wrote.

The committee also suggested the village board consider requiring septic system upgrades whenever a property is sold to a third party “in an arm’s length transaction” or when property owners install swimming pools.

Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder said Tuesday the next step is for the village board to weigh in on these suggestions. Then, they will go to the village’s attorney and planners.

“Everyone has to agree,” she said. “We have to work something out. I’m sure we’ll come to a quick agreement. Everyone’s determined to preserve our water quality.”

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