Ceremonial 'First Flush' Marks Completion of Multimillion-Dollar Westhampton Beach Sewer Project - 27 East

Ceremonial ‘First Flush’ Marks Completion of Multimillion-Dollar Westhampton Beach Sewer Project

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Officials gathered at the Westhampton Free Library on Friday to celebrate the completion of a multi-million dollar sewer project in Westhampton Beach. DANA SHAW

Officials gathered at the Westhampton Free Library on Friday to celebrate the completion of a multi-million dollar sewer project in Westhampton Beach. DANA SHAW

Officials gathered at the Westhampton Free Library on Friday to celebrate the completion of a multi-million dollar sewer project in Westhampton Beach. DANA SHAW

Officials gathered at the Westhampton Free Library on Friday to celebrate the completion of a multi-million dollar sewer project in Westhampton Beach. DANA SHAW

Officials watch as blue dyed water flows through the sewer pipe behind the Westhampton Free Library on Friday during a ceremonial

Officials watch as blue dyed water flows through the sewer pipe behind the Westhampton Free Library on Friday during a ceremonial "first flush" marking the completion of a multi-million sewer project in Westhampton Beach. DANA SHAW

Officials watch as blue dyed water flows through the sewer pipe behind the Westhampton Free Library on Friday during a ceremonial

Officials watch as blue dyed water flows through the sewer pipe behind the Westhampton Free Library on Friday during a ceremonial "first flush" marking the completion of a multi-million sewer project in Westhampton Beach. DANA SHAW

Officials watch as blue dyed water flows through the sewer pipe behind the Westhampton Free Library on Friday during a ceremonial

Officials watch as blue dyed water flows through the sewer pipe behind the Westhampton Free Library on Friday during a ceremonial "first flush" marking the completion of a multi-million sewer project in Westhampton Beach. DANA SHAW

authorBill Sutton on Mar 3, 2023

A host of local, county and state officials were joined by Westhampton Beach residents and environmental activists at the Westhampton Free Library on Friday, March 3, to celebrate the completion of a multimillion-dollar sewer project in Westhampton Beach — in what was dubbed a “first flush event.”

Following a lengthy press conference, at which the officials noted the cooperation it took from various levels of government to complete the project, they gathered in the library parking lot, removed a manhole cover and watched as blue-dyed water flushed from the library — the first building that received the necessary approvals to tie into the sewer system — and flowed through the system, on its way to the Suffolk County treatment plant at Francis S. Gabreski Airport, more than two miles away.

The crowd gathered around the manhole erupted in applause as the blue dye filled the pipe.

Friday’s celebration marked the completion of a years-long $16 million project that began in 2015. Village Mayor Maria Moore noted that in addition to being a boon for local businesses and housing opportunities along the village’s Main Street, the sewer system will result in a 24 percent decrease in nitrogen flowing into Moniebogue Bay.

Stony Brook University marine scientist Dr. Christopher Gobler had provided the village with a feasibility study in the project’s planning stages that described the benefits of going through with the project. According to the report, the system was expected to reduce nitrogen content into the bay by 5,000 pounds per year.

“When the board members and I heard that, we knew that this was an important project and we had to get it done,” Moore recalled of the early discussions that prompted the Village Board — whose members, Deputy Mayor Ralph Urban, Brian Tymann, Steve Frano and Rob Rubio, joined her at the podium inside the library on Friday — to launch the project.

“It certainly was a team effort,” she added, introducing the board. “It wouldn’t have happened without this team together. We’re so fortunate that we came together as a board. We all want what’s best for the village and, remarkably, we all seem to feel that we have the same ideas of what it means to get there.”

The mayor also pointed to the other officials present, which included Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Deputy County Executive Peter Scully, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and County Legislator Bridget Fleming, in forming a partnership that saw the project completed.

“It just shows you what can happen when people come together,” said Moore, who recently announced that she would run for town supervisor in November’s election.

Rather than the village build its own sewage treatment plant, officials worked with the county to tie into the existing plant at the county-owned airport, which is also home to the 106th Air National Guard base. In 2018, Bellone signed special legislation authorizing the village to hook into the county system, which serves the airport, the air base and the Hampton Business District.

As part of the project, the village agreed to increase the county plant’s capacity by 50 percent, to 150,000 gallons of effluent daily, at a cost of $4.8 million. The ability to tie into the county system greatly reduced the cost of the project for the village — and that work was covered almost entirely by grants, including a $3.3 million state DEC grant and a $250,000 county grant.

“This would have been a very different project without the support of the county,” More said. “I don’t know if we could have done it if we had to build our own sewage treatment plant.

“Thankfully, the county executive has been behind it since day one,” she added.

At the same time, the village undertook a $13 million sewer pipe installation project, running 2 miles of mains throughout the business district, as well as some businesses and condominiums south of Main Street. The majority of that project was also covered by state grants and town CPF water quality improvement money. Because of the grants and expiring capital improvement bonds, the entire project was expected to have no tax impact on residents.

The project had two goals, to provide an economic boost to business district by allowing greater housing and business opportunities, and to improve water quality in Monibogue Bay and Monibogue Canal, where, previously, many septic systems drained.

Scully, unofficially dubbed the county’s “water quality czar,” said that the completion of the project was certainly cause for celebration.

“This was a long, long time coming,” he said. “I think you can tell by the turnout just how important a day this is. We savor the victories that we have. We have situations where we have very strong local leadership and collaboration between various levels of government. And we celebrate those. That’s why we’re here today.”

Bellone noted that water quality in the county is the “most important issue of our time, that we have to solve.”

Advancing the county’s wastewater infrastructure and reducing nitrogen pollution in the county’s waterways is a top priority for Bellone, his office said. Bellone introduced the Reclaim our Water initiative to reduce nitrogen pollution of groundwater and surface waters from cesspools and septic systems through connection of communities to sewer systems and the installation of advanced on-site wastewater treatment systems. Cesspools have been identified as a primary source of nitrogen pollution that has degraded water quality throughout the county, contributing to harmful algae blooms, beach closures and fish kills.

“It’s a historic day,” he said on Friday. “It’s a celebration. It has turned into a wonderful victory.”

He said that the triumph was compounded by the fact that while the Westhampton Beach project would go far to improve the water quality in the area, it was also important to the economic viability of the village.

“When you can also work in a way where you’re working to solve this incredibly important issue in our region and, at the same time, know that you are also creating opportunities for economic development, and growth and downtown revitalization, and help the small-business owners, that is an incredible thing,” Bellone said.

Thiele credited Bellone for his commitment to making water quality issues a priority and congratulated Moore and the Village Board for making the project happen.

“It really was a partnership with this. It was the village, the town, the county, the state. But the leadership for this came from the Village Board of the Village of Westhampton Beach, and the mayor of all mayors, Maria Moore,” he said. “This group has come together, not just for this project today, but the Main Street revitalization project, really, is the poster child, is the example of what downtown revitalization has been.

“To see this project from beginning to end and know to what impact this will have, not just for the residents and citizens here in Westhampton Beach, but for water quality across the East End,” he added, “I just want to say thank you and congratulations, and it was a pleasure and an honor to be a part of it.”

Schneiderman joked that Friday’s event was his “first, first flush,” since he began in public service.

“I’ve been to a lot of ribbon cuttings,” he quipped, “but never a first flush. Hopefully, it’s not the last first flush. But the reason we haven’t done a first flush before is because nobody has figured out how to do it, right?

“When we realized all the nitrogen that was getting into the bays, and the havoc it was wreaking, we could have buried our heads in the sand and pretended that this daunting problem didn’t exist,” he added. “But I think we’re learning that burying things in the ground is not a good idea. We could have not dealt with it. Politicians could have said, ‘It’s just too big of a problem. Forget it.’ But we have an unbelievable team of people here who are not afraid to take on giant challenges.”

He congratulated Moore and the board for not only the sewer project, but the Main Street revitalization project, as well.

“Today, driving into Westhampton, it just felt great,” he said. “It’s not just about the sewers, it’s about the whole transformation of downtown. It is incredible.”

Pointing to Moore and the Village Board, he said, “The leadership of Mayor Moore has just been phenomenal. We wouldn’t be here today having a first flush without you and the Village Board. All of us on the Town Board were really pleased that we could follow your lead and partner here with the county, with the state, with everyone in helping to make this happen. So I look forward to that first flush and, hopefully, to many more.”

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