Your chance to create cleaner waterways
While the Innovative Alternate Systems — septic technologies pitched for homeowners by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone last week with grant funding and loans as the dangling carrot to reduce purchase costs for cesspool replacement — still has to pass a public hearing on April 25 with a possible legislative vote on May 16, the consensus is approval will become a reality.
Deputy County Executive Peter Scully said he was fairly confident the Reclaim Our Water Septic Improvement Program would be strongly supported. “Legislators understand the importance of replacing nonperforming cesspools and septic systems,” he added.
Once the resolution is approved, the kickoff for the application process is July 1, Scully said, then homeowners can apply on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a priority rating system, that is, higher points for those homes within zero-to-two-year groundwater travel time to surface waters, or within 1,000 feet to an enclosed water body, like a pond or lake.
“The next priority are parcels within the two-to-five-year groundwater travel time,” Scully said. “After that, parcels could be anywhere in Suffolk County.”
Technologies the county has selected for the program include Hydro-Action, Norweco Singulair, and Orenco Advantex, with a fourth possibility they were waiting on regarding testing results, he said. The units utilize natural biological processes including aerobic and anaerobic methods to denitrify the waste. There is no smell.
There are over 360,000 homes in Suffolk County with outdated cesspools and septic systems, officials said.
That’s a lot of homes, it was pointed out, and the response to this might be high.
“Before we take that larger step, we have to illustrate we can handle the issue on a smaller scale,” Scully said. “We’re very interested to see what the response is and we will be reaching out to civic groups.” A number of emails from residents have already poured in, he said.
While a new cesspool costs around $5,000, a new active treatment system can cost $17,850, but the county has established grants through Suffolk County’s Septic Incentive Grant and homeowners could get as much as $11,000 if a pressurized shallow drainfield was in the mix via the county’s Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund.
A loan program administered by the Community Development Corporation of Long Island for low-interest financing would help make the remainder affordable. CDCLI Funding Corp., with financial support from Bridgehampton National Bank, will partner in the amount of $1 million as well as financial commitments from several philanthropic foundations.
Grant assistance is based on the following: Adjusted gross income less or equal to $300,000 a year is eligible for 100 percent of the grant; $300,000-$500,000 is eligible for 50 percent of the grant, and more than $500,000 in annual income is not eligible.
“The model here is designed to avoid any out-of-pocket costs with the combination of grants and loans and to make it possible for the average homeowner to install a new IA system and pay off less than half the cost of the system over 15 years,” Scully explained.
The program has been methodically making its way to this point since 2014.
Scully said a water quality team researching nitrogen pollution visited Rhode Island, Massachussets and Delaware to tap officials on their reduction methods and successes. The county tested different technologies, donated by manufacturers, as part of a pilot program via a lottery system with homeowners utilizing 19 systems that used six different technologies.
“Of those, three were approved for use in Suffolk County and a fourth will be approved in the weeks ahead,” Scully said. “The four we are looking at over six months of operating data show they treat down to below 19 milligrams of nitrogen per liter. That’s a significant reduction compared to cesspools; they are at 65 to 70 milligrams of nitrogen per liter.”
Scully pointed out another reason confidence was high for the legislative approval of the program.
“This grant funding was approved by the voters in a referendum for this purpose,” he explained. “In 2014, the voters approved an amendment to county charter that included explicit language authorizing the use of no less than $2 million a year to fund the installation of nitrogen-reducing septic systems.”
Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said there was a whole host of community organizations within the zones of the priority areas, including those south of Montauk Highway. “If you live on Grove or Conklin avenues, this might be a good option,” he said, adding other areas close to estuaries like Canaan, Swan and West lakes.
“There will definitely be need for outreach. I would bring [director of planning] Sarah Lansdale to the meetings to explain the program.” Lansdale was a major player in the water quality team established that researched the systems.
Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri said that 650 homes were in the $18 million plan with the county to sewer homes, thanks to New York State funding announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a local October 2014 press conference and to the village’s already established sewage treatment plant.
The funding, Pontieri said, was still under negotiation. “Downtown is sewered, new development projects including Bay Village, Riverwalk and Riverview at Patchogue,” he said. “We also sewered 55 homes at the end of River Avenue, Fairfield has been connected and we’ve been aggressive with other apartment complexes along the Patchogue River to get them connected.” Pontieri said there were only 3,500 properties in the village; better than a third, primarily along the water or in high-density areas in total will be sewered. “We’re hooking into The Vineyards and the new assisted living facility and along East Main Street, so we’ve stretched beyond our borders,” he said.
Bellport Village Mayor Ray Fell said he’d personally sign on for one of the new treatment systems.
“I think we have to preserve the environment and do whatever we can, so that 50 to 60 years from now we can still swim in the bay,” Fell said.
“When we were looking at a sewer system for the village, 90 percent said that this was something they weren’t willing to pay for, for the hookups or to pay for its use,” he said. “I was very surprised by it.”
Fell said he would reach out to Legis. Kate Browning’s (WFP-Shirley) office for a discussion.
“I would love to talk to Kate and Josh to find out what the program is and give villagers the option of applying for these,” he said. “Especially if someone is in the process of replacing their cesspool, this would be a good option.”
According to Slaughter, “we’ve always spoken about the need to supplement a centralized sewer district,” he said. Browning’s efforts several years ago resulted in the Forge River Sewer Project that is moving forward. “It includes residents along the Forge River, homes east of Mastic Road to the Forge and funding up to Riverside Drive,” he said. “But there are parts of Shirley that wouldn’t be included, so this would be an opportunity for those homeowners.”
Browning acknowledged that Brookhaven hamlet and the Bellport community on South Howells Point Road get flooded. “This technology is definitely better than a cesspool,” she said. “And you can use the [pressurized shallow drainfield] technology to water the grass.
“If Ray wants to set up a meeting in the village, we’d accommodate that.”
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