The newly-minted Water Quality Improvement Projects Advisory Board is moving nearer to seeking applications for grants to assist Islanders installing advanced waste water treatment systems that lower nitrogen levels in discharges.
The Water Quality Board is reviewing regulations to establish standardized criteria to guide its work and the advice it gives to the Town Board about what to fund.
A draft document by the advisory board makes it clear that projects in all sections of the Island will have equal consideration for grants. However, the Water Quality Board will focus on projects likely to have the greatest impact on improving water quality for both the aquifer and surrounding waterways.
Among the criteria for judging applications will be the economic, technical and environmental quality benefits of each proposal, the draft states. The Suffolk County Department of Health Services is setting up ways of monitoring such projects to ensure they are being properly maintained.
The Water Quality Board would be authorized to recommend zoning and other changes to the town code for consideration by the Town Board to help protect water quality.
Among the questions members have is how to evaluate the technical aspects of a proposed project. One suggestion is to allow Town Engineer John Cronin to provide that information, earning a fee paid by applicants for each review. Mr. Cronin works on a part-time basis for the town and there is a question about whether he would have time to take on such evaluations.
Other town entities that could be involved in reviewing applications include the Highway and Building departments and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
It will fall to the Town Board to make the ultimate decision about what projects receive grants and the amount of the grants. What is currently available for distribution is $440,000 of Community Preservation Fund (CPF) money, but any money left by year’s end must be returned to the main Community Preservation Fund for its ongoing efforts to purchase land for preservation.
Residents voted last November to allow up to 20 percent of total CPF money raised each year to be allocated for water quality projects, so a new allocation will be forthcoming in 2018.
Applications can be submitted by individual property owners, business owners, homeowners associations and civic organizations. Grant seekers will have to disclose financial information that will be kept confidential, but provide information to help determine the size of a grant.
One factor that will weigh heavily on who gets grants will be the type of system currently in use for treating waste water.
Most systems installed prior to 1973 have cesspools that are aged and provide little treatment, while those installed after 1973 were required by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to have two-stage septic systems that provided some treatment. The oldest systems are those the Water Quality Board is most likely to recommend for more immediate upgrades.
One debate still ongoing among board members is how the grant will be provided. Members recognize that some applicants won’t have money to install a new system and await reimbursement. At the same time, if money is to be provided in stages, there has to be an assurance that projects will go forward to completion.