The Town Board unanimously passed a resolution — with two members absent — on November 18 to grant rebates to homeowners upgrading their septic systems or cesspools to approved nitrogen-reducing systems.
The resolution was passed after a recommendation to the Town Board by the Water Quality Improvement Projects Advisory Board. The rebates, which could reach $15,000, will be paid for by the Shelter Island’s annual share of the Community Preservation Fund (CPF).
Money for the CPF comes from a 2 percent tax that buyers pay when purchasing properties and is used to purchase open space for preservation and fund water protection programs.
Applications by homeowners for town rebates can be submitted via the town’s website or through the Town Clerk’s office. Rebates are available for most Shelter Island homeowners who have their own wells or are served by a water authority, such as West Neck and Dering Harbor, but Shelter Island Heights residents, linked to a sewer system, are not eligible.
Others not eligible are those building new houses or remodeling houses when the work affects 50 percent or more of the original structure. That’s because the state law that established the rebate system prohibits expanding existing density.
The Town Board held a public hearing on the resolution before passing it. One speaker, Gordon Gooding of Hay Beach, rose in opposition to the plan, saying the resolution was deeply flawed and would do little to reduce nitrogen pollution of the Island’s surface and ground waters.
Mr. Gooding told the board he believed old and inefficient septic systems are part of the problem, but upgrading on limited basis will do little to solve a clean water crisis on the Island.
“Giving money to a limited number of individuals does not address the major issues we face, nor is it a plan,” Mr. Gooding said.
He pointed out that the rebate plan excludes new houses, while there were more than 50 under construction last year, and many more houses under major reconstruction that are outside the rebate plan.
“We add 50 additional problems to be resolved. What have we accomplished?” Mr. Gordon said.
He asked the town to consider “enforceable guidelines to prevent future pollution,” especially the construction of large shoreline construction. He also asked what is being done with the pollution issues in Fresh Pond, and called for improvements in the waste discharge system at Bridge Street.
But his main argument was to ask the board to bring professionals in to advise and map solutions, noting that the Water Quality Board is an all-volunteer group. “Solutions to our problems require input from knowledgeable and experienced people in water quality, water pollution and waste management field, “ Mr. Gooding said. “Perhaps our investment would be better spent identifying a group of experts, or at least experienced individuals in these fields, to look at the full picture.”
Councilmen Jim Colligan and Paul Shepherd thanked Mr. Gooding for his ideas, and noted that the rebate plan was only a first step in a process to remove pollutants from Island waters.