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Aug 8, 2017 6:00 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Adopts First Septic Rebates And Mandates

Aug 8, 2017 6:04 PM

East Hampton on Tuesday became the first East End town to adopt a septic system improvement incentive program, as well as the first municipality in the state to adopt laws mandating the use of nitrogen-reducing septic systems in any new or replacement project.

The East Hampton Town Board voted unanimously to adopt the septic rebate law, which will give homeowners who live in critical watershed areas up to $16,000 in rebates toward the cost of replacing an existing septic system with one that reduces nitrogen in wastewater to 19 milligrams per liter. Homeowners who do not live in one of the identified critical watershed areas, or in downtown Montauk, will be eligible for rebates of up to $10,000, or 75 percent of the costs of replacing a septic system or cesspool.

Suffolk County has also recently adopted a septic replacement rebate, which homeowners may also apply for and pair with the town rebate.

The town rebates will be paid from the town’s Community Preservation Fund. Last fall, voters gave all five East End towns permission to use up to 20 percent of the annual proceeds from the CPF’s 2-percent tax on real estate transactions for water quality improvement.

To be eligible for the rebates, homeowners must meet the qualifications for the state’s STAR energy rebate program and must install a Suffolk County-approved system.

The rebates will not cover increased costs in electricity, which the new systems will generate. Manufacturers have estimated the electrical costs of running the systems would be approximately $300 a year.

To apply for the rebate, a homeowner must first obtain a building permit to replace the septic system and then supply the town’s Natural Resources Department with information about the location of the house, the current septic system, the proposed location of the new system, and a certified estimate from the contractor for the full cost of the replacement.

Once the project is approved, the homeowner must complete the work within six months and submit receipts for all the actual costs to receive a rebate check.

On Tuesday, the town also adopted extensive revisions to the town code that mandate the use of low-nitrogen septic systems in a wide variety of circumstances. Any new construction or substantial renovations must employ one of the low-nitrogen systems approved by the county, as well as any project that voluntarily replaces an existing system.

Commercial and municipal properties must switch to low-nitrogen systems if they are currently connected to a large-capacity cesspool, which have been outlawed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, or if they come to the Town Planning Board for new site plan review.

The new systems will have to be maintained and inspected to ensure they are operating as designed.

The new town standards will not go into effect until January 1, 2018—a delay town officials said is intended to allow Suffolk County to adopt its own mandates for low-nitrogen systems and get inspection and compliance monitoring processes in place.

The board held a second round of public hearings on the revised law, which has been widely applauded, last Thursday, August 3. On Tuesday, the three bills establishing the rebates and setting the new requirements were adopted without fanfare.

“Protecting water quality is our highest priority,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said in a release from the town on Tuesday afternoon. “Our quality of life and economy depend on safe drinking water and pristine surface water.”

The town has identified more than 12,000 homes that are still connected to cesspools, which release wastewater directly into the ground, unfiltered, and can leach nitrogen at upward of 50 milligrams per liter into groundwater.

High nitrogen levels in tidal bays have been identified in recent years as the catalyst of harmful algae blooms in most of the South Fork’s harbors, bays and ponds.

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