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Town Engineer pushes environmental agenda

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Town Engineer John Cronin speaking to the Town Board Tuesday on hiring an intern to begin building a data base on the Island’s septic systems.

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Town Engineer John Cronin speaking to the Town Board Tuesday on hiring an intern to begin building a data base on the Island’s septic systems.

Town Engineer John Cronin is staying the course to remedy what he has described as a situation that is “going to get worse without some radical changes.”

Mr. Cronin addressed the Town Board at its work session Tuesday on hiring a summer intern to begin to identify the Island’s septic systems to make a first step in building a database.

In early April Mr. Cronin told the board that dangerous pollutants, including nitrogen, are not being controlled due to antiquated or faulty septic systems. Neither septic systems or cesspools, which Mr. Cronin described as “just a hole in the ground,” does much of anything to stop the flow of nitrogen compounds that poisons drinking water and surrounding surface waters such as ponds, creeks and bays.

At the time, Supervisor Jim Dougherty described Mr. Cronin’s report as “an eye opener.”

Just one example of an approaching crisis in water quality was the release Monday by The Nature Conservancy of a federally funded study on regional sea grass health. The study concluded that nitrogen pollution, from sewage and fertilizers, is a major factor in “killing off sea grass populations throughout the coastal waters of southern New England and New York.”

Underwater sea grass meadows, The Nature Conservancy reports, provides a critical habitat for numerous species, especially shellfish.

In his April report, Mr. Cronin said to make a start on mitigating the situation, the septic systems and cesspools of the Island should be identified to document those that may be more problematic due to age and location.

Nothing would mandate owners to make revisions to their systems. A  townwide record of them, in one place and easy to access, would be a building block to help curb future contamination issues.

But at a subsequent work session in April, Building Inspector J. Chris Tehan told the board that it would be impossible, with a short-staffed Building Department, to take on the task of creating a database.

Tuesday Mr. Cronin outlined a summer intern program, suggesting an Island college student pursing a major in science or engineering, or a high school graduate who will be going to college in the fall to study those disciplines. The intern would report to Mr. Cronin or, in his absence, Commissioner of Public Works Jay Card Jr.

Compensation would be $4,000 for six hours, five days a week, beginning June 30. Mr. Cronin suggested the town could budget for the work, or it could take the money from his salary, which is $29,999.

It was also possible the intern would not be paid if it could be worked out with the college to receive credits toward a degree.
Councilman Ed Brown thanked Mr. Cronin for his presentation, especially the options on payment, which he said is a rare occurrence for proposals made to the board.

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