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Mar 29, 2017 9:01 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

County Launches Incentives To Fight Nitrogen Pollution; East Hampton GOP Has Plan Of Its Own

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at a press conference on Wednesday, March 29, announcing the  financial incentive program that would help county homeowners replace outdated septic systems or cesspools at an affordable rate.
Apr 4, 2017 11:27 AM

Suffolk County will begin to offer incentive rebates to homeowners who replace outdated septic systems with systems that filter out nitrogen before releasing wastewater into the ground.

Locally, with the election season ramping up—and with East Hampton’s Democrat-controlled Town Board having been the first in the region to unveil an ambitious pairing of rebates and mandates intended to hasten the evolution to nitrogen-reducing systems—the town’s Republican Party this week released its own proposal for an even more demanding set of requirements to encourage homeowners to upgrade their systems.

The Republican wastewater plan was penned by recently announced Town Board candidate Paul Giardina, an engineer and former Environmental Protection Agency official. It was drafted before the reauthorization of the Community Preservation Plan last fall, which is expected to direct tens of millions of dollars to water quality programs in the coming years.

The Republican plan carries many of the same general elements included in the draft laws that the current Town Board is considering, including prioritizing the replacement of septics in harbor watersheds, phasing in mandates to replace failed systems, and using public funding to assist homeowners with the costs of installing the new systems.

The Town Board has said it wants to soon start a rebate/incentive program that will pay anyone living in a watershed up to $15,000 to replace existing on-site septic systems and would mandate the installation of new systems with new construction, as well as the replacement of old systems whenever they fail. The town expects to have nearly $6 million available from the CPF in 2017 to direct to rebate programs.

The Republicans, who hope to win back majority control of the board next fall with the departure of Democratic Supervisor Larry Cantwell, said that they think even the influx of CPF money will be “woefully inadequate” to sufficiently tackle the issue of upgrading septics townwide. They suggest that the town look to tap county, state and federal funding resources as well.

County officials unveiled some of that potential additional funding this week, with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and other county officials announcing plans for legislation that would create countywide assistance grants of up to $11,000 per household toward the replacement of aging and failed septic systems.

Mr. Bellone says he wants to see the county make a major shift toward nitrogen-reducing septic systems by the end of 2017, an effort that could boost the plans of Southampton and East Hampton towns as they move to mandate the use of the new systems.

Like the townships, county officials are drafting new regulations that could be in place by the end of the year mandating the use of the new systems in new construction and whenever old systems are being replaced.

The county is also already providing training to tradesmen on how to service and monitor the new models of septic systems being approved for use in the county, according to Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration. “We are engaged in a multifaceted effort to set the stage for the evolution to systems that reduce nitrogen,” said Mr. Scully, whom Mr. Bellone has called his “clean water czar.”

“It’s a complicated endeavor, because there are a lot of things going on at the same time,” he continued. “The county executive has been adamant that the systems are proven to be effective, which has turned out to be prudent, since two of the systems we’ve tested have not performed as needed. And we need to make sure there’s an industry here to service them.”

Nitrogen in residential septics has been pegged by marine scientists as the fuel for the explosion of destructive algae blooms in local bays over the last 30 years. Many homes still use systems installed in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s that leach nitrogen-laden waste liquids directly into groundwater that runs into local bays.

Long criticized by environmental watchdogs as lagging far behind the rest of the country in environmental protection, Suffolk County had no nitrogen-reducing septic systems approved for use until last fall. Since Mr. Bellone, largely at the urging of South Fork officials and scientists, spurred the effort to improve water quality, the county has tested and approved three nitrogen-reducing systems, and a fourth is due to be approved shortly. In addition, 19 systems are currently undergoing testing for effectiveness in county homes, and testing on another eight is to begin this spring.

The initial minimum standard for nitrogen reduction in new systems set by the Suffolk County Department of Health is 19 milligrams per liter. A standard septic rings system releases about 50 milligrams per liter into groundwater. Officials and industry representatives have said that as the market drives innovation, systems will quickly get even better at scrubbing nitrogen from a home’s wastewater, and the County Legislature has already set up protocols for regular review of the latest technology and for the Health Department to ratchet down the maximum allowable nitrogen levels as feasible.

Southampton and East Hampton towns are both drafting legislation that would mandate the use of nitrogen-reducing septic systems and crafting financial incentive programs of their own, tapping into millions in CPF money now available for water quality improvement projects. The county’s moves, however, could make the implementation of such efforts across the 13 townships easier with the help of centralized regulating and monitoring by the County Department of Health.

At the outset the county will have field inspectors monitoring the maintenance and functioning of nitrogen-reducing systems, which require annual servicing and regular monitoring to ensure that their filters are functioning properly.

As the use of the systems becomes widespread, the county plans to develop a digital monitoring system by which service companies can, and would be required to, report on the annual maintenance of each home’s system and provide data to show that it is functioning as intended.

With more than 200,000 septic systems in the county woefully outdated, the drive to bring down nitrogen levels is in its infancy, but the coming mandates and incentives, Mr. Scully said, should put substantial weight behind the evolution toward cleaner water.

“I think we’ve made more progress in the last of couple years than we had in the prior several decades,” he said. “Nobody had been focused on these issues. Now, a lot of people are focusing on this, and we’re going to take advantage of that focus and energy to move things along quickly.”

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How could anyone with a brain cell be against this?
By BarryMcConnell (15), Hampton Bays, New York on Mar 31, 17 8:57 PM
Any renovations near our bays should have a mandatory replacement of the existing septic system...
By knitter (1760), Southampton on Apr 1, 17 6:22 PM
The East Hampton GOP "plan" is a phoney plan, phoney in the sense that's it's not any different from the Democrat-generated town plan. All the Republicans are saying is that they'd go beyond the CPF and seek county, state and federal money for this remediation. That's part of the Dems' plan, too -- it goes without saying these days (and for about 50 or 75 years now) that a government project will look for funding anywhere it can be found.

What a cheap, sleazy move on the part of the East ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1952), Quiogue on Apr 5, 17 4:55 PM
stay in quiogue you don't understand the east end politics much different from your area.
By xtiego (697), bridgehampton on Apr 5, 17 6:03 PM
I'm always more than a little offended when anyone, me included, is told to "stay in Quiogue" or "stay in Bridgehampton" or stay anywhere and not make comments outside their own little zip code area. It's quite ignorant to say something like that. America is a big country with many places, many people and many ideas, and they all blend to make it what it is.

As far as whether I "understand the east end politics" is concerned, I have been active, very active, in local politics on a daily ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1952), Quiogue on Apr 6, 17 8:46 AM
Furthermore, to add insult to injury, his admonition got your location wrong!

"Stay ON Quiogue" would have been correct . . .

Fiddle Fiddle Fiddle !!!
By Nero (284), Sag Harbor on Apr 6, 17 8:57 AM
That too.
By Turkey Bridge (1952), Quiogue on Apr 6, 17 10:35 PM
Drive-in movies,Coopers Beach, Southampton village