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Mar 13, 2018 3:46 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Septic Replacements Slowed By Costs And Logistics

Mar 13, 2018 3:53 PM

Six months into the town’s septic replacement incentive program, just one nitrogen-reducing septic system has been installed at an East Hampton home using the rebate program—and higher-than-forecast costs have town officials searching for ways to spur more homeowners to take advantage of the incentives.

There has been interest in the rebate program, with about 40 homeowners having applied for and been approved to receive up to $16,000 each in rebates offered by the town once their existing septic systems have been replaced with nitrogen-reducing systems. But with some 12,000 residential septic systems in the town that need to be updated, and millions in public funding available, officials are saying the pace of replacement should be faster.

A number of logistical and cost hurdles have slowed things down after the town go-ahead. Just three homeowners have gotten to the point in the process where they were issued building permits for the new septics, and only one has completed the work and received a rebate.

Part of the challenge has been the costs, which have proven to be well above the approximately $17,000 that had been forecast when the newly approved nitrogen reducing systems were first unveiled last year. Installation of the systems countywide has proven to be closer to $22,000 per property, town officials have said.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said this week that a state requirement that the system installations be designed by a certified engineer before being handed over to the installation companies has added thousands to the cost, and weeks or months to the process of getting the systems installed. The engineering alone can cost upward of $3,000, Councilman David Lys said.

“If the state would drop the requirement of having to have an engineer, since these [septic systems] are basically ‘plug and play,’ that would help out a lot,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “We’re also exploring other ways to bridge the gap between the rebate and what people have to lay out.”

The town’s environmental staff, which has been helping residents with applications and navigating the approval process, has been sending the early applicants straight to Suffolk County for a boost in aid.

“We suggest that people try to get the county grants first,” said Melissa Winslow, an environmental analyst with the town’s Natural Resources Department.

Suffolk County has offered homeowners up to $11,000 in grants toward the costs of the system—something that all three East Hampton properties to be approved for systems thus far took advantage of—as well as low-interest loans for any other costs.

The town financial assistance comes in the form of a rebate, requiring that the project be paid for out of pocket and completed before the rebate checks are issued.

Peter Scully, the deputy county executive, said this week that the county has given out about 200 grants, most for about $10,000—exhausting the $2 million the financially strapped county had dedicated to the grants.

In the case of the one system that has been replaced in East Hampton, the homeowner tapped the maximum grant available from the county, then needed only $12,000 of the $16,000 available from the town.

Mr. Van Scoyoc said the town is talking with some environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy about helping town residents with up-front loans that would then be paid back when the new systems are installed and rebates are issued.

Town Housing Department Director Tom Ruhle told the Town Board earlier this month that his department is considering using a home improvement fund, which it maintains to help low-income residents make repairs to bring their house up to code, to fund septic replacements in anticipation of the rebate program refunding much of the costs. Any costs over the amount rebated could be repaid at some point in the future when the house is sold.

Ms. Winslow said that, overall, people who have come through the Natural Resources office have been enthusiastic about the rebate and grant programs and eager to get their septic systems replaced. Some, she noted, have been compelled to seek the new systems by town code, which now requires that any failed septic tank or collapsed cesspool be replaced with the new technology.

A fair number have also just been residents interested in replacing their systems with something better for the environment, since the town is helping with the costs.

“Pretty much everybody is thankful for the rebates,” she said. “We’ve had a good amount of interest. Hopefully … that will keep up.”

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1. The requirement for an engineer/architect to design the system is money well spent. If they think that doing away with this requirement will reduce the cost of a system they are barking up the wrong tree. Having independent designers who understand wastewater systems involved helps prevent mistakes that can destroy a home’s value. The $2,500 protects what in most cases is a person’s most valuable asset. This industry has been plagued with disreputable people who drive the price down ...more
By Roman Stone (1), Islip on Mar 14, 18 7:01 AM
Correct me, if I'm wrong, but isn't the immediate to goal to upgrade or replace the 100s of truly harmful septic systems leaching into watersheds, ponds and coast lines. The rebate system is for those systems, not all 12,000 septic systems!
By Amagansett Voter (53), Amagansett on Mar 16, 18 2:26 PM