Nitrogen protection zone passes
The Town of Brookhaven board unanimously passed a new chapter within the town code for Supervisor Ed Romaine’s proposed Nitrogen Protection Zone last Thursday, June 9. The new chapter in 78A town code means any new construction, residential, commercial or industrial within 500 feet of any local waterways such as the Great South Bay, Carmans and Forge rivers and even Lake Ronkonkoma, will require stricter nitrogen removal standards.
Prior to accepting the change during the last board meeting, Romaine acknowledged an amendment requested by Councilman Kevin LaValle to allow a waiver for homes damaged by flooding or an act of God in an effort to prevent financial hardship.
“That is something I am willing to accept,” said Romaine.
But it doesn’t mean the amendment was a done deal.
“This amendment will help in a way where they can afford to do it when acts of God happen and [constituents] are trying to rebuild,” LaValle said during the town board meeting.
“We support the bill as originally drafted and vetted,” said Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization president Maryann Johnston. “We’ll withdraw and support to exempt any property within the zone.”
At the meeting, it was unclear whether or not the amendment was passed.
According to Romaine, the resolution passed unanimously exactly the way he had written it. LaValle’s amendment, exempting those affected by flooding or fire damage, won’t be passed until it is carefully worded and a public hearing is held sometime next month.
“The amendment is forthcoming,” said Romaine. “We are working on it. It could say something [such as ‘a constituent] would not have to replace their system if their home burnt down or was flooded and was not covered by a grant, a government subsidy or covered by insurance,’ which is a very limited circumstance.”
The point is to address the board members’ legitimate concerns and ease financial stress. “It will be very limited,” he added. “Plus, the county has money waiting for people to give for these systems.”
“It’s a start on the properties that will have the most impact, it’s not a complete solution,” said Brookhaven chief environmental analyst Anthony Graves.
In the future, he added, he hopes it would no longer be a huge expense for those required to replace their old systems; new systems should be covered by insurance once the new law is in effect.
As of Jan. 1, 2017, the new nitrogen standard cesspools are no longer acceptable. Instead, sewers are encouraged and alternative systems will be acceptable with an 8mg/L denitrification on any new construction, construction that fully replaces demolished existing structures, or new construction or additions to existing buildings that are more than 50 percent of the original building.
“We’ve all watched our waters degrade over the last 50 years; part of that problem is nitrogen creates and makes algae blooms, clouds our waters, degrades our waters, pollutes our waters and kills eelgrass,” said Romaine publicly during the last board meeting. “It not only affects the health of our surface waters, but it also contaminates our groundwater.”
The Mastic-Mastic Beach-Shirley area, for example, he explained, is a community with a sink well and cesspool attached to each and every home. Eventually, he said, the community was either drinking water from their cesspool or their neighbor’s.
“We cannot continue to pollute our waterways,” he added.
Kevin McAllister, head of Defend H2O, encouraged the favorable vote. “This is extremely important legislation, in fact, it is groundbreaking,” he said.
The county plan, which has been delayed, is reason enough that the movement must happen at the town level, he explained.
“We cannot continue to put the same old, same old antiquated systems to service expansion,” he said. “These are very important standards.”
Back in October 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $393 million in funding, mostly from Superstorm Sandy relief money, to strengthen coastal resiliency. The town became the leader in Suffolk with a more effective denitrification system.
“Right now, a standard septic system for a homeowner costs $5,000,” Romaine explained during a previous interview. “The alternative systems cost $25,000. The county should not wait on this, because this will encourage people to get the funding and help reduce the nitrogen in the water.”
The county, according to McAllister, has delayed the plans for funding that were supposed to be on the November ballot for voter approval for sometime in 2017.
The county’s plan, he said, is to implement a new sanitary code, however, they do not require any standards but instead only would require new systems.
A public hearing regarding the plan, he added, was held at the county on Wednesday. Suffolk County Board of Health held the public hearing on proposed changes to the sanitary code that would allow the use of innovative and alternative nitrogen-removing wastewater treatment systems. Future code changes, explained county spokesman Vanessa Baird-Streeter, will be considered for policy options, to be fleshed out under the county’s Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan, which will have preliminary recommendations by October 2016 and a full plan by May 2017.
According to Streeter, the county is only able to approve conventional wastewater disposal systems (typically septic tanks and leaching pools) for individual on-site systems. The innovative/alternative demonstration program is operating under a limited SCDHS Board of Review variance, with NYSDEC and NYSDOH coordination.
The county referendum would establish a revenue stream for various wastewater upgrades and inclusive funding for advanced and nitrogen-removing on-site systems. The funding stream would be a significant step in solving the nitrogen problem and would be segregated and allocated strictly for direct expenses of wastewater upgrades. The policy options are under development, but about half of the funding would be used for individual on-site upgrades and half for cluster decentralized systems and support of sewer extensions.
Graves said although there has yet to be an agreement with the county to help with funding for the program, the hope is to have the county first pass more stringent standards countywide. The town’s new standards, he explained, depend on the county approving the alternative systems.
“It is a step forward and I hope to see other towns follow suit instead of deferring it to Suffolk County,” added McAllister.
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