CORRECTION: Mr. Colligan’s words are with respect to owners of properties who are making major changes involving at least 50 percent of their structures and to those building new structures on the Island. Developers of most new construction in recent years have indicated a voluntary plan to use upgraded septic systems.
A Shelter Island Town Board member predicted Monday night that with aged septic systems here could be mandated to replace them within 18 months.
Councilman Jim Colligan told the Waterways Management Advisory Council that so great is the concern about the quality of drinking water and surface waters around the Island that relying on voluntary compliance for upgrades may be insufficient, particularly in low lying areas such as the Near Shore and Peninsular Overlay District.
Mr. Colligan also said there could be a tax incentive for low cost loans to help businesses and homeowners afford the septic upgrades he estimated as costing between $13,500 and $17,000.
The aged systems people had installed years ago cost about $6,000, Mr. Colligan said.
The newer systems are modeled on those being used successfully in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the councilman said.
In addition, he said that while the lion’s share of recent water quality testing has concentrated on elevated nitrogen levels, he expects testing to also look at pharmaceuticals in the water supply. With an aging population on the Island, many of whom are taking various medications, the result is waste that could affect well water and the surface waters.
The Town Board has approved spending $37,500 per year for water quality testing, demonstrating its recognition of the importance of the issue, Mr. Colligan said.
United States Geological Survey (USGS) scientists, who have long provided readings on water quantity for the town, are conducting the water quality tests.
They haven’t yet made a public report to the Town Board about early findings, although apparently some preliminary information has been given to board members.
During a recent demonstration of the techniques being used to test the saltwater-fresh water interface at various sites on the Island, USGS Chief Scientist Fred Stumm said his team wanted to spend as much of its time in the field as possible and would report publicly on its findings at a Town Board meeting when it had more data.