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Bills to protect water await Cuomo action

BARBARA ELLEN KOCH PHOTO

BARBARA ELLEN KOCH PHOTO

Three bills introduced by Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) have passed both the Assembly and Senate and would improve water quality if, as expected, they gain the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The bills passed by “overwhelming margins,” according to Mr. Thiele, are designed to promote water quality protection on Long Island:

• One bill authorizes towns in the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund (CPF) to establish a septic system replacement loan program using water quality monies from the fund. Money for the CPF comes from a 2 percent tax that buyers pay when purchasing East End properties and is used in turn to purchase open space for preservation and fund water protection programs.

In the new bill, towns may require loans made under the program to be repaid by property owners through charges on real property benefitted by the loan and collected through town taxes.

It also provides money to be allocated through grants that do not have to be repaid, but money repaid on loans would have to be redeposited into the town’s CPF account.

Shelter Island has been allocating money through CPF grants, but has yet to establish a revolving loan program. That was one suggestion made when the Water Quality Improvement Projects Committee discussed ways to allocate money to those wanting to upgrade septics to nitrogen-reducing systems.

A second bill clarifies existing law by authorizing use of CPF money for construction of public water mains and connections to provide drinking water to inhabitants whose drinking water supply has been contaminated by toxic chemicals, hazardous substances or emerging contaminants.

So far, most of Shelter Island has resisted tapping into the Suffolk County Water Authority system, preferring to use well water, but in recent months, there have been a few voices suggesting connecting to Suffolk County Water Authority might eliminate concerns about the single aquifer feeding wells here.

A third bill would authorize enactment and enforcement of local laws requiring monitoring of groundwater impacts resulting from mining or reclamation of mines within counties with a population of one million or more people who draw drinking water from a single source aquifer.

To date, money to offset the costs of new septic systems has come from Shelter Island Town and Suffolk County, but Mr. Thiele said all levels of government need to work together to address the issue of declining water quality.

“The State Legislature must provide not only money but other tools to combat the continuing health threat to our water resources,” he said. He cited the need throughout Long Island for increased water quality monitoring, extension of public water and upgrades to septic systems as tools to be employed in the effort to restore water quality.

“We continue to focus our efforts on keeping Long Island’s water pristine by enhancing monitoring and enforcement measures, providing the access to CPF funds for drinking water purity measures and implementing innovative programs to enable more septic systems to be updated with the newest technologies,” Mr. LaValle said.

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