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County launches lottery for septic system pilot program

JULIE LANE PHOTO Town engineer John Cronin at a recent budget meeting warned town officials back in April that aged septic systems on the Island needed upgrading to protect water quality.
Town engineer John Cronin at a recent budget meeting warned town officials back in April that aged septic systems on the Island needed upgrading to protect water quality.

A county wide lottery for year-round residents whose properties lack sewers will enable 19 lucky winners to have a new alternative wastewater treatment system installed without charge and five years of free maintenance.Supervisor Jim Dougherty made the announcement today after hearing about the pilot program from County Executive Steve Bellone.

“The lottery is a first public step towards the permitting of new systems which will remove a significant amount of nitrogen from being deposited in our aquifer,” Mr. Dougherty said. The new systems to be installed will be capable of removing 50 percent of nitrogen as compared with effluent from standard septic tanks, he said. That would mean that the new systems would produce an effluent of 19 milligrams per liter or less, instead of the approximate 39 milligrams per liter currently being produced by the old septic systems.

The systems to be installed are referred to as Innovative/Advanced Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems or I/A OWTS that perform like miniature sewage treatment plants, according to information provided by Suffolk County.

Three of the manufacturers’ systems are designed to be installed underground while one manufacturer installs an above-ground system that could be put in a basement, garage or shed with the effluent discharge going to an underground leaching system.

The demonstration systems must be placed in front yards to allow easy access to them and avoid having to reroute interior lines. Interior pluming is outside the scope of the project, according to the county. The system will be monitored and maintained as well as used for small groups to observe for educational purposes.

Such visits are likely to occur about twice a month for the first six months and less frequently after that period. But there could be educational visits for up to two years after the systems are installed. Homeowners will be notified in advance of such visits.

During the first six months, there will be monthly samplings of the system. After that the system will be sampled four times a year for two years. After that, sampling will be done only as part of the system’s maintenance contract.

Those selected will be notified by the Department of Economic Development and Planning. The specific systems will be matched with appropriate properties and property owners will enter into an agreement with the system supplier.

The system lay out and installation will then be designed for each specific property. Prior to the installation of the new system, a covenant will have to be filed that requires the new system to be properly maintained by the current property owner and any future owners of that property.

Aging septic systems are a problem throughout the county and Shelter Island town engineer John Cronin has been very vocal this year about how problems with outdated cesspools and septic systems pose serious threats to water quality here.

While the county estimates the cost to the manufacturers for providing the pilot systems at about $15,000 each, such systems have been estimated to cost between $25,000 to $35,000. That’s an amount few would be easily able to invest without financial help, Mr. Cronin has said.

There are municipalities, including Southampton, where a fund has been established to offer some financial help to those willing to upgrade their systems. But no such financing is available on Shelter Island unless anyone here qualifies for the county pilot program.

There will be a cost to homeowners for filing required covenants to have an advanced on site wastewater treatment system installed on their property and an estimated $5 to $20 per month for electricity. Once the five-year maintenance contract expires, it’s estimated  a homeowner would pay between $200 and $400 a year for maintenance.

Based on information from other areas where the systems have been used, the county report said there are no known nuisances to the new systems.

So critical is the need here that Mr. Cronin even offered to take $4,000 out of his own compensation to pay for a study that would map existing aged systems on the Island. He was saved from doing that when The Group for theEast End stepped forward with a $4,000 grant that got the mapping started this summer.

But there’s a lot more work to be done just mapping systems before any actual work might take place unless homeowners assume the full burden themselves.

This new county pilot program could give some fortunate Islander a leg up on the process considered vital to protecting the town’s fragile aquifer.

Lottery applications are available at http://suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/PublicWorks/SepticDemonstrationProgram.aspx.

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