It was, said Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), “the most people ever gathered in one place to flush a toilet.”
In lieu of cutting a ribbon, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and other state, county and local elected officials gave the first flush to toilets in a new facility Thursday on the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm grounds.
Environmentalists and others making up a crowd of about 50 people, joined in praising a first-in-the-region wastewater treatment system designed to significantly reduce pollution of ground and surface waters.
The handsome new facility, made of former shipping containers, houses two bathrooms that are handicapped accessible, a small kitchen and shower for the farm’s staff and visitors.
Supervisor Jim Dougherty said it “was a wonderful day for Shelter Island.” Mr. Dougherty noted that “the quality of our water is the number one Shelter Island issue,” and the new facility “is one of the answers.”
Mr. Bellone noted that “water quality is a crisis in the county,” and resources have been expended, not only at Sylvester Manor to help pay for the installation, but across Suffolk. Nitrogen overload, due to some extent from fertilizer runoff, but mainly from antiquated septic systems — more than 360,000 in Suffolk County, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation — has challenged political leaders to come up with solutions.
County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) who represents the Island, said the Manor was a pioneer in the fight to put a stop to pollution. “Our natural resources drives our economy,” Ms. Fleming said, “and defines who we are.”
The new facility has been a private-public financed project.
Sara Gordon, the Manor’s project director, told the Reporter in November that the estimated price tag of the project would be in the $425,000 range, with the clean water system costing $150,000 and the rest going to temporary structures, design, engineering, architects, legal fees, landscaping, fixtures and monitoring maintenance.
The county has committed $209,000 for the system and other related structural work, and the State Community Capital Assistance Program has come up with $80,000.
Ms. Gordon noted last autumn that Mr. Thiele, who represents the Island, secured $125,000 in state funds for the project. The remaining costs, Ms. Gordon said, was paid by private contributions and grants.
Called a “Recirculating Vertical Flow Constructed Wetlands” (RVF), it is a relatively new technology and known to be one of the most environmentally safe systems available. According to Purdue University, “An RVF wetland’s relatively small footprint and high degree of treatment should improve the performance of the soil absorption system by minimizing the amount of solids and nutrients entering the soil infiltration system.”
It’s called a “non-proprietary” system, which means that technically all the materials needed to construct one can be purchased at retail outlets. It was developed by Natural Systems Utilities headquartered in Hillsborough, New Jersey, and built by Peder Larsen of Shelter Island Sand, Gravel & Contracting.
The Group for the East End, The Long Island Community Outreach, and Peconic Green Growth were some of the environmental groups that participated in the project.
Benjamin Dyett, board president of the Manor, didn’t mince words about the importance of the first flush ceremony of the state-of-the-art technology. “This is the most exciting thing to happen on this ground since the 17th century,” Mr. Dyett said.