Treating Waste a Pressing Problem on East End

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By Karl Grossman

East End officials provided differing perspectives this week before a task force appointed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy looking to dramatically expand sewering in Suffolk.

A village with a sewage treatment plant, Sag Harbor, will see that facility reach its limit soon, testified Sag Harbor Village Trustee Edward Deyermond. “We have tremendous growth in Sag Harbor” and “at the rate Sag Harbor is being built out,” its sewage plant will “reach its excess capacity in a year or so,” said Mr. Deyermond, also Southampton Town assessor. He offered: “I would love to have the county take this plant over.” The county could provide “expertise” and it has the “ability to spread the cost.”

Speaking for the Village of Southampton, Mayor Mark Epley said it badly needs a sewer system to encourage business and affordable apartments over stores. “You’re not able to handle future needs if you don’t care for wastewater systems and specifically the septic aspect,” said Mayor Epley. He said there are those who “stand in opposition and would put a fence around the Village of Southampton and hand out keys to those there. But we have to plan for the future.” He said he was for the creation of two sewer districts in the village.

But Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller said “we have no sewer system and I ran for election against having one.” As to “concerns, the big one for us is the cost,” said Mayor Teller. “No one in the village is interested in a sewer system,” he said.

They and others spoke Monday before the Suffolk County Wastewater Treatment Task Force as it met at Riverhead Town Hall. The task force, established by Mr. Levy last year, is chaired by Suffolk Legislator Wayne Horsley of Lindenhurst, chairman of the legislature’s Economic Development, Higher Education and Development Committee. Both he and Mr. Levy are proponents of more sewers in Suffolk.

Less than 30 percent of Suffolk County is sewered; most of it is served by cesspools. What is sewered is largely in the Southwest Sewer District in Babylon and western Islip Towns. Since the Southwest Sewer District was built in the 1970s, sewering has been a virtual dirty word in Suffolk. The cost of the project ballooned to $1 billion and it was riddled with corruption involving politicians of both major parties. It ended the careers of a number of Suffolk officials. Suffolk County Executive John V. N. Klein lost a bid for re-election in a GOP primary in which his backing of the Southwest Sewer District was the main issue.

But Messrs. Horsley and Levy, in strongly advocating a substantial increase in sewers in Suffolk, say they are needed today to encourage economic growth and affordable housing.

That perspective was also articulated at Monday’s hearing by John Cameron, the new chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Board. After Mayor Epley said that economic development and affordable housing in Southampton require sewers, Mr. Cameron, managing partner of Cameron Engineering, commented that the village is a “microcosm of what is going on through Suffolk. We need sewers in Suffolk County. It’s a critical issue affecting all the county.”

Mr. Horsley, at the meeting’s end, said the task force will produce a request for proposal for a consultant to do a “master plan for the sewering of Suffolk County.” The county has appropriated $1.25 million for the plan, he said.

Mr. Deyermond said that 88 businesses and 139 residences in Sag Harbor are hooked into the village’s sewage treatment plant on Bay Street. It can handle 250,000 gallons a day and now “in summertime” is processing 215,000 gallons.

In 1996 it was “expanded” and in 2002 “upgraded,” he said. It provides for tertiary treatment, a high level for a sewage treatment plant, many of which only do secondary treatment. Also, there is now “ultraviolet in place of chlorine.” It’s “really decent, state of the art,” said Mr. Deyermond. The plant has an “outfall” that goes “directly into the bay.” There was discussion, he said, of “piping” the discharge to the Sag Harbor Golf Course for use as fertilizer on its greens there. But “the concept never went anywhere.”

Meanwhile, with the current growth in Sag Harbor, what happens next to the plant is a question. Expansion will be difficult because of its placement on the waterfront, he said. It is between two yacht clubs, and any reduction in parking for an expansion would be a problem in what has become, Mr. Deyermond half-joked, a “drive-through village” because of a lack of parking. Then there is the cost, he said.

In his testimony, Mayor Epley spoke of how the water table is so high in Southampton that the building on Main Street where its chamber of commerce is located “sits in groundwater.” Using cesspools in such a situation presents “a lot of cleanliness issues,” he said. There is “no ability for delis, restaurants to expand” because of Suffolk Department of Health Services standards involving cesspools and seepage from them into close-by groundwater. The village has “the potential of apartments above stores” but this is impacted by these limits.

Southampton Hospital has a sewage treatment plant with a capacity of 105,000 gallons a day, and there was a study in 2005, Mayor Epley said, of having 240 “hook-up sites” in the village linked to it. He said he would like to see “two sewer districts” established in Southampton, one possibly connected to the hospital’s sewage plant or to the campus of Stony Brook Southampton, now dependent on cesspools. The college, just west of the village line, “is looking to expand,” he noted.

Mr. Horsley asked Mayor Epley what the “will of the business community” is to sewering of Southampton. “The majority of business owners in the village would embrace this,” the mayor responded.

Mayor Teller said that although he was first elected two years ago with his opposition to a sewer system in Westhampton Beach a principal issue, “I see the value of a sewer system.” Just north of the village there is the 100,000 gallon-a-day sewage treatment plant at the county’s Francis Gabreski Airport built when the field was the Suffolk County Air Force Base. Conceivably, the village could “be hooked up to” it, he said.

But it “boils down to money. Where are we going to get it?”

Also, when he first ran for office and opposed a sewage system in the village, the sewer plan that was devised “put the pumping station on the village green behind the gazebo.”

Mr. Cameron asked whether Westhampton Beach residents feared that “with sewers comes [population] density and affordable housing.” The mayor replied, “We have no problem with that.”

Among others speaking at the session was Jeff Murphree, Southampton Town planning and development administrator, who outlined its redevelopment plans for Riverside. He told of how a central element is “create a real business center” that would give the hamlet “a sense of place.” And if Riverside develops as planned, “some day it will need sewers,” he said. A complication is that it is “next to important water bodies.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale and Michael Reichel, superintendent of the Riverhead Sewer District, also spoke. Supervisor Cardinale said sewers are “critical for development and for workforce housing” in Riverhead. Mr. Reichel said that the Riverhead sewer treatment plant, constructed in 1937, will need substantial improvement to meet new limits on how much nitrogen it can discharge. These limits have been set by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation acting, he said, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because Flanders Bay, into which the plant discharges effluent, is part of the federally designated Peconic Estuary. The cost for the upgrade is estimated at $8 to $10 million, said Mr. Reichel.

Mr. Cameron commented on how large-scale financial support from the federal government for sewers is no longer available as it was in the 1970s. The Southwest Sewer District was financed largely with federal money. Mr. Cameron spoke of Representative Tim Bishop telling the task force that “you can’t count on any mega-funding coming to Suffolk County” for sewers.

Mr. Horsley said that in building sewers in Suffolk, there will now need to be an emphasis on “public and private partnerships.”

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