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Feb 12, 2019 10:19 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village Mayor Hopes To Put Sewers Back On The Table For Discussion

Southampton Village Mayor Michael Irving said sewers need to be brought back onto the table for discussion to assist with improving the health of Lake Agawam. GREG WEHNER
Feb 12, 2019 2:52 PM

The idea of creating a sewer district in Southampton Village, both to improve water quality and to help the business community grow, needs to be revisited, Mayor Michael Irving said last week, especially now that additional funding sources may be available to assist with the exorbitant cost of such a project.

Village officials began formulating a plan for a sewer district in 2015, but the potential $33 million price tag—and questions about where the funding would come from—stopped the project in its tracks.

“It was the consideration of who was going to pay for it, how it was going to be paid for, and whether or not it was the entire village contributing to it or was it the individual businesses,” Mr. Irving said, adding that he was in favor of all village residents sharing the cost, rather than just businesses in the downtown commercial district. “I felt, because of the gains that you would have environmentally, everybody should share the cost.”

Because of those unanswered questions, the plan sat dormant for nearly three years. But now, nearly four months after the first round of Community Preservation Fund monies set aside for water quality improvement projects was handed out by the Southampton Town Board in October—including funds supporting a sewer project in Westhampton Beach Village—the mayor said he is considering reintroducing the idea.

Last year, following approval in Albany and via referendum, Southampton Town began setting aside as much as 20 percent of CPF revenue—collected through a 2 percent tax on real estate transactions within the town—specifically for water quality improvement projects. That can include sewers, which reduce the amount of pollution compared to individual septic systems.

Recipients of funding for water quality projects included Westhampton Beach, which received a little more than $2 million to be used to improve drainage along Main Street and another $1.13 million to be applied to the new sewer district project. Southampton Village was given $292,040 to improve drainage in the village in an effort to improve the water quality of Lake Agawam. The scenic backdrop of the village is regularly plagued by blue-green algae blooms, or cyanobacteria, which are toxic and harmful to humans and animals.

A 2017 study conducted by Dr. Christopher Gobler, a marine science professor at Stony Brook University who has studied Lake Agawam for more than a decade, found that 70 percent of the nitrogen going into the lake comes from septics leaching wastewater. He found that nearby homes produced nearly 50 percent of all of the nitrogen that entered the lake, while Main Street businesses only produced 20 percent.

Dr. Gobler said at the time that the installation of a sewer system could reduce the nitrogen load on the lake by 20 to 50 percent, as long as septic systems in the area were also upgraded to newer technology that reduces the amount of nitrogen that enters the ground.

Village officials passed legislation in 2017 mandating that homeowners install state-of-the-art nitrogen-reducing on-site water treatment systems that are Suffolk County Department of Health-approved. They must be installed with any new residential construction or when there are modifications to a residence that result in an increase in the number of bedrooms, or if the property is near a body of water in the village, or if substantial changes to an existing septic system are needed.

“Those systems are great, and they will reduce a lot of the nitrogen loading, but they won’t allow for greater expansion,” Mr. Irving said of on-site individual septic systems designed to limit the amount of nitrogen released into the environment. “It’s a Band-Aid to the bigger issue. It’s not the answer.”

When former Mayor Mark Epley pursued a sewer district in 2015, Mr. Irving said he was on board and thought the Village Board was progressing well with the concept. But outside funding options were few and far between, and the attitude of state, county and town officials was that the village was on its own.

But now, water quality has become a more prominent regional issue, and, accordingly, there is more funding available for water-quality efforts.

Westhampton Beach Village has been awarded numerous grants to assist in its implementation of a sewer district. In December, it was awarded a $5 million grant from the State Department of Environmental Conservation through the agency’s Water Quality Improvement Project, which handed out more than $20 million for projects across Long Island.

The first phase of the Westhampton Beach sewer district, in which 68 commercial properties and 88 residential properties will be hooked up to an existing treatment plant at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, is expected to cost $15.2 million.

There are multiple reasons to pursue a sewer project in Southampton Village, according to Mr. Irving.

The biggest reason, he said, is the environment and the positive effect a sewer district would have on the quality of the water in Lake Agawam.

“We’ve done an incredible amount of work capturing runoff,” he said, pointing to catch-basin additions along Windmill Lane, Culver Street and Pond Lane that reduced the amount of storm runoff that reached the lake. “We’re now working on Meeting House Lane, with drainage systems. If we can do some more of that, plus put in sewers, I think we’ll be way ahead.

“It’s also going to add to the vibrancy of the village,” he added. Mr. Irving said the addition of a sewage treatment plant could clear the way for more wet uses in the business district, allowing for more coffee shops and restaurants, or even second-floor apartments—creating workforce housing with affordable rents.

Initially, the village was hoping to tap into the Stony Brook Southampton Hospital sewage treatment plant through a gravity-fed system, but the board decided at the time to go with its own low-pressure system.

Some of the more recent technology Mr. Irving has talked about implementing involved pods, or modular treatment units, which each could service five or six stores—an option that still might be implemented instead of a major villagewide sewer system.

“We’re very lucky here in how the village is designed, because we have the parking lots and stuff in the back of the stores, so we have room to add something like that,” he said. “Those are still on the table and are being looked at, but the technology isn’t updated enough to use them.”

Mr. Irving was not sure when the board would begin looking at the sewer district concept again.

Just as the village master plan, which sought to change zoning in the business district to bring in more businesses, got put on the back-burner, so did the sewer district plan.

“The whole concept of the business master plan was to put things in place knowing that there was going to be, down the road, a septic system,” he said. “I think it was a good plan, so I don’t think it really needs to be brought up and reviewed again.”

Westhampton Beach’s measures to get a sewer district in place has not been an overnight success, and Mr. Irving acknowledged that, recognizing that efforts in his own village would take time and planning.

Although he would not say whether he plans to run for reelection this year, he said if he does, the sewer district would, and should, be a high priority for the village government.

“Even if I run again, and it’s a two-year term, it’s going to be down the road,” Mr. Irving said of a sewer district. “But it needs to get back on the table desperately.”

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70% non resident population, shuttered stores, restrictive zoning .slow,real estate market, overpopulation of deer and ticks and now looking to spend tax dollars on a sewer system that will take 5 to 7 years of disruption to input and increase taxes and cost. I think not !
By Obserever (40), Southnampton on Feb 14, 19 2:11 PM
Good first step, Mayor. Get that back on the table, a journey of 1,000 steps starts with the first one.
By Rickenbacker (255), Southampton on Feb 14, 19 2:43 PM
Its a big waste of money. None of the alledged polluters of Lake Agawan will be hooked up to the new sewer nor will the school or town hall. There are restaurants and stores going out of business left and right because we have no more full time residences. The village has no plans on who will go to these new stores nor do they care. Its a joke!
By chief1 (2719), southampton on Feb 14, 19 3:15 PM
Start building a sewer system through-out the entire South Fork with CPF money - it's like we live in the stone age, emptying our waste into the ground.
By HamptonDad (217), Hampton Bays on Feb 14, 19 4:30 PM
Michael, you are blowing smoke again. I'm pretty sure that Gobler said 5?10 percent from the main st and jobs lane business district. You are serving a special interest groups in those areas. They will save monies by not pumping their septic tanks. Allowing apartments to expand above stores is foolish. Parking is already poor at best in the summer. A variance will be needed for parking. Going three stories is absurd.
The rest of the village will not recieve any of these benefits. All paying ...more
By knitter (1718), Southampton on Feb 14, 19 7:02 PM
I remember when implementation of the CPF was being considered. It was sold on the basis of open space preservation. Now were doling it out for sewers, after buying night clubs and allowing preserved space to be used for agricommercial purposes like Polo farms. What a mismanaged program. And Building permits are issued based on the potential impact of human waste on the water table.
By Funbeer (261), Southampton on Feb 14, 19 10:42 PM
You forgot the 4 million to the movie theater in Sag Harbor was that in the spirit of open space?
By chief1 (2719), southampton on Feb 15, 19 9:17 AM
1 member liked this comment
Who is running the ship? The boats is adrift...
By knitter (1718), Southampton on Feb 15, 19 2:22 PM