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Seeking the same page: Water Quality and Town boards at odds on septic regs

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There’s a disconnect between the Town Board and the Water Quality Improvement Projects Advisory Board, leaving in limbo those interested in obtaining Community Preservation Fund (CPF) money for rebates to offset costs upgrading septic systems.

Money for the CPF comes from a 2 percent tax buyers pay when purchasing East End properties and is used in turn to purchase open space for preservation and fund water protection programs.

At the October 31 work session, the Town Board recommended those interested in upgrades to begin filing applications in advance of the November 17 public hearing on legislation that would create the process to grant rebates.

But at their November 2 meeting, the Water Quality Board members appeared unaware of that recommendation. Members discussed a provision of the state’s CPF law that prohibited using CPF money to offset costs of the nitrogen-reducing septic systems for new construction or construction expanding living space in an existing house.

There’s nothing new about that provision in the law establishing use of CPF money for water quality projects, but not for projects that would increase development, Supervisor Jim Dougherty wrote in an email.

Mr. Dougherty provided a copy of the email he’d sent to the Water Quality Board members following the Tow Board’s work session, clearly laying out the action the Town Board had taken.

He said it’s “difficult” to understand why the Water Quality Board members seemed not to know that CPF money was tied to a clause prohibiting development, since that had been incorporated in the law from the outset.

“This has never been a vague or buried issue,” Mr. Dougherty said.

Building Permit Examiner Lori Beard Raymond explained to the Water Quality Board November 2 that the state action is meant to keep the nitrogen-reducing systems from increasing density.

Those qualifying for rebates would be owners of existing property, where either no other work is being done, or work being done would not add to the size of structures.

Ms. Raymond said the Suffolk County Department of Health Services has been processing applications for nitrogen-reducing systems faster than applications for conventional systems.

Nonetheless, she said told the Water Quality Board it could still take four to 18 months for approvals.

The Water Quality Board has a draft of an application that might have to be amended. But Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams, told the Reporter the draft could be used to provide town officials on how many homeowners have interest in the rebates.

Ms. Williams added that the town would have the authority to pass legislation making it possible to provide rebates to those building new houses or expanding existing structures. Such legislation was passed by both East Hampton and Southampton.

She planned to discuss the possibility with Town Attorney Laury Dowd who has advised the Water Quality Board, “I would rather do it right than do it fast.” Ms. Dowd urged the members to slow down and lock in the appropriate methodology for considering rebates.

“We don’t have to rush and get it wrong,” she said.

The only people who could qualify for rebates under the new law, unless the town is able to act, would be those whose houses built after 1980 want to upgrade their systems without expanding their houses, said Peder Larsen, who has installed both conventional and new septic systems.

People who can’t get financing from CPF money aren’t going to bear the full cost of nitrogen-reducing systems, especially without the ability to get approval for them rapidly, Mr. Larsen said. Nor are they going to put in the nitrogen-reducing systems a few years from now.

One of the sites to which he referred is in the Fresh Pond area where neighbors are already plagued by problems of cesspools and aged systems polluting the water, he said.

Thinking he could convert his conventional system customers to the nitrogen-reducing systems, he said the state limits amounted to “taking back a Christmas present” if they couldn’t qualify for rebates.

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