Sag Harbor Begins to Weigh Expanding Sewer Plant Service Area

Public Works Superintendent Dee Yardley holds a sample of treated waste water for testing in the sewage plant's lab. Peter Boody photo

Sag Harbor’s 44-year-old but twice expanded and upgraded sewage treatment plant on Bay Street is the best technology available for removing nitrogen from septic waste water before it enters the bay system, says Village Trustee Aidan Corish.

But the plant’s network of sewage pipes has only about 75 connections serving perhaps 100 properties clustered around the business district, about 6 percent of all village properties. They are located in seven service areas along four main sewer lines totaling about one mile in length, from the Villas condominiums on West Water Street, on the west; Main Street south to just shy of the John Jermain Library; the Watchcase condos on Division Street and Il Cappucino restaurant on Madison Street.

The sewage plant, licensed to process up to 250,000 gallons effluent, could handle almost double the load it currently treats. At a time when nitrogen is continuously leaching from old private septic systems and polluting the Peconic Bay system, some residents and officials have long wondered if the village should get serious about expanding the plant’s service area.

A new committee held its first meeting last month in Village Hall to begin exploring that possibility, according to Mr. Corish, who said it will continue to meet monthly, inviting experts to help it explore engineering, regulatory, cost and potential grant issues in order to begin developing an expansion plan that could be presented to the Village Board of Trustees.

Mr. Corish, who is the Village Board’s liaison to the sewage treatment plant, said the group “has the mayor’s blessing and the full support of the board.”

The committee includes former trustee and now chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Robby Stein, who was the Village Board’s former liaison to the plant; Public Works Superintendent Dee Yardley, a state-licensed operator who manages the plant; Trustee Thomas Gardella, who is a plumber; and John Parker, a member of the village’s Harbor Committee known for his familiarity with Sag Harbor’s waterfront and its environmental health.

The committee will meet again on Wednesday, February 13 to hear from marine scientist Chris Clapp of the Nature Conservancy, who worked closely with the Village of Westhampton Beach as a member of its Conservation Advisory Board to develop the plans for a new public sewage system in that waterfront village.

“This is a long-term proposition, not something that’s going to happen this week or next,” Mr. Corish said.

At the first meeting, which was held on January 9, the group determined its “guiding principles,” Mr. Corish said, including agreeing that the committee needed expert advice and that the focus initially should be on extending sewer lines to Sag Harbor’s waterfront communities, the low-lying Redwood area on the west and the “SANS” neighborhood, containing the private communities of Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest and Ninevah, on the east.

Mr. Corish’s committee has begun meeting at a time when the Village Board is weighing the adoption of a proposed law, like those in effect in the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, to require all new residential construction to install an “I/A,” or “innovative/alternative” septic system that actively reduces nitrogen before leaching waste water into the ground. The village law also may require an I/A system to be installed whenever an older septic system had failed or needs major repairs or replacement.

Grants are available from state, county and town sources to cover some if not all of the $20,000 to $30,000 cost of installation. The systems require electrical power and regular monitoring and maintenance, which has prompted a few critics to predict that many of the new systems won’t be effective in the long run.

The idea of expanding the sewer plant service area has gained traction because of the impending I/A requirement. The option of connecting to the village system would save the expense of an I/A system; it also would consistently remove 95 percent of all nitrogen from their waste water, according to Mr. Yardley, the plant operator. “Denitrification is the whole point of this place,” he commented.

“It’s the gold standard of what we can do in this village,” Mr. Corish said. “It’s gone a long way to allowing our Main Street to be prosperous.”

Connecting to a new sewer line would be required of all adjacent properties by Village Code, with the cost to be paid by the user. There also is an annual service fee, depending on how many sewage units, as specified in the village code, each property requires; and a water usage fee.

Gravity forces effluent through the village’s network of pipes to a pump and powerful grinder 30 feet below ground level just outside the treatment plant that can pulverize a two-by-four. The effluent is then pumped up to the plant, a concrete and brick structure that is elevated about 10 feet above ground level because of the high water table in the area.

The plant structure contains five open-air 50,000-gallon-capacity rectangular tanks, at least one of which is usually kept empty, to aerate effluent; allow bacteria to denitrify it; and separate out the solids, which are collected with a scavenger waste truck monthly in winter and every two weeks in summer and taken to the county’s Bergen Point scavenger waste facility in West Babylon.

The remaining water, which looks totally clear, is decanted, sent through a channeling system where it is treated by bacteria-killing ultraviolet light, regularly monitored and tested and finally released into the bay through an outfall at the village’s dinghy dock.

Mr. Yardley said the plant has improved water quality in the harbor area, enough so that seals have returned to the vicinity of the plant in the winter.

“As the water goes, so goes the village,” said Mr. Corish.

In the early 1970s. the U.S. EPA, after the enactment of the Clean Water Act on the federal level and the Tidal Wetlands Act on the state level, pressured the village to stop allowing raw effluent from the central business district to flow down a pipe on Main Street to a holding tank at Long Wharf, from which it flowed into the bay untreated at every high tide. Local residents today can remember swimming off the wharf and having to check to be sure they were not about to jump into something odious.