North Havens Sets Income Exemption From I/A Septic Rule

North Haven Village sign

North Haven homeowners with an adjusted gross income of $175,000 or less who must replace their aging septic tanks may not have to install a costly nitrogen-reducing “Innovative-Alternative” system, as otherwise required by rules the village adopted in 2019 to help protect the Peconic Bay estuary from nitrogen pollution.

The North Haven Village Board voted, 4-0, to establish the income limit for granting exemptions from the I/A requirement at its monthly Zoom meeting on December 15.

The panel acted after a brief public hearing at which no members of the public spoke and there was no debate or discussion among board members. Trustee James Laspesa was absent.

In explaining the proposal, Mayor Jeff Sander said that he and the trustees had “decided it was appropriate to relax some of the requirements” for obtaining an exemption, which the village code previously allowed only in cases of “financial hardship,” which it did not define.

In addition to meeting the income limit, homeowners will be eligible for an exemption if: they are replacing an existing septic tank, not installing a system for new construction; they are unable to obtain state, county or town grants to help pay for it; their property is not in a town- or county-designated zone where I/A systems are required; and the estimated cost of their I/A system would be at least $20,000 more than a new conventional system.

In October, when the board voted unanimously to reject a Sunset Beach Road second homeowner’s request for an I/A exemption, Mayor Sander said only “dire conditions” would justify it. But he also urged the panel to adopt specific criteria to clarify when the board could grant one.

At their meeting a month later, board members discussed the issue, agreeing on the $175,000 limit and declining to limit exemptions only to year-round residents. Mayor Sander said then that the homeowner whose exemption bid had been rejected in October would be free to come back to the board and submit a new application, if he qualified under the new criteria.

The many thousands of private in-ground conventional systems ringing the Peconic Bay estuary do nothing to reduce the amount of nitrogen that they leach into groundwater, which eventually flows into the bay system. Scientists have warned the nutrient is damaging the bays by promoting algal blooms and reducing oxygen.

Towns and villages all around the Peconic Bay system over the past year have adopted I/A requirements for most if not all future septic installations, depending on their location. At the hearing on North Haven’s proposed I/A requirement in April, 2019, Mayor Sander commented, “It’s imperative that the towns and villages move rapidly to get these new systems installed. North Haven is an island. We touch the water practically everywhere and we have a million estuaries.”

The town of Southampton, Suffolk County and New York State have been offering grants to qualifying applicants that can pay the entire cost of the installation. But the Sunset Beach applicant for an exemption, Frank J. Mangieri, told the board in October that it appeared unlikely he could secure any grants in 2021, much less 2020.

Commenting on the exemption decision this week, Kevin McAllister of Noyac, founding president of the water quality advocacy organization Defend H20, wrote in an email that “North Haven, in foregoing its authority to compel improved treatment at an appropriate permitting juncture, is perpetuating the status quo. A pass to pollute.”

“What matters is the mass loading of wastewater nitrogen,” he added, “so in order to see meaningful effects with water quality from upgrades, there must be widespread use. An I/A checkerboard across the landscape, and which takes decades to fill in, will not get it done. And creating loopholes is going backwards.”

In other business at last week’s meeting, the Village Board voted 4-0 to ban parking on both sides of Fresh Pond Road as a safety measure.

Also at the December 15 session, the board agreed to amend the village code to define the digging of a foundation as the start of construction. Current rules require construction to start no later than six months after a building permit is issued. Mayor Sander urged the board to consider changing the rules further by eliminating the six-month deadline and making building permits valid for one year after issuance, with the possibility of extensions in case of construction delays.

Mayor Sander reported that the village had received pledges from 14 people to donate close to $20,000 toward the estimated $31,000 cost of removing the 19th-century farmhouse from the 4-acre Lovelady Powell property on Sunset Beach Road, which he said would make the parcel a more appealing candidate for acquisition as open space by Southampton Town’s Community Preservation Fund.