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Town Board moves ahead on infrastructure projects

JULIE LANE PHOTO Town Engineer John Cronin outlined a project to the Town Board Tuesday to revamp the septic system at the American Legion Hall.
Town Engineer John Cronin outlined a project to the Town Board Tuesday to revamp the septic system at the American Legion Hall.

The Town Board acted decisively Tuesday on two issues affecting the infrastructure of the Island.

At its weekly work session, Commissioner of Pubic Works Jay Card Jr. and Town Engineer John Cronin discussed projects with the board concerning water quality and improving the conditions of the roads. All board members agreed to go forward with both proposals.

On clean water, Supervisor Jim Dougherty noted that the Suffolk County Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program, which provides grants to municipalities to improve water quality, had contacted the town with a deadline of February 20 to apply for funds. The maximum award for a project is $125,00 with the town matching 50 percent of the total amount.

Board members, including Councilman Peter Reich and Councilwoman Christine Lewis along with Town Attorney Laury Dowd, suggested applying for a grant to upgrade the bathrooms at the north end of Crescent Beach.

Mr. Cronin had a better idea. With PSEG indicating it would revisit running a tunnel for power lines near that spot at Crescent Beach to the North Fork , the town should ask the power company to foot the bill for environmentally safe bathrooms. If PSEG is going to spend $9 million to construct a power pipeline, paying for improved bathrooms is “small change,” Mr. Cronin said.

Instead, the engineer suggested applying for a grant to re-do the septic system at the American Legion Hall in the Center.

Since the Hall is the town’s Youth Center and hosts many community functions, it has a good chance of attracting grant money. Mr. Cronin said the building’s septic system “probably doesn’t meet the standard currently in effect for the kind of uses the building has.”

The town, he added, with county support, “has the opportunity to put in a state of the art treatment system.”

Ms. Dowd noted that applying for a grant for the Hall “would be supported by the fact that all the data we have shows the Center has higher nitrogen than most other areas. It will give us a chance to reduce that.”

Noting that time was short to apply for the grant, Supervisor Dougherty asked, “Why are you still sitting here, John?”

Mr. Cronin, looking at a message on his phone, said, “I’m taking care of something right now about it.”

But Mr. Cronin stuck around to discuss a project run by Cornell University that could help the condition of the roads on the Island.

Mr. Card outlined the program called the “Cornell Local Roads Project” that, using special software, takes an inventory of road conditions. Employing the project “will be hugely beneficial to us to determine the financial costs and planning going forward,” Mr. Card said.

Numbers crunched by Mr. Cronin came to an expenditure of about $9,600, most of it compensation for a summer engineering intern who would be trained, along with a town official, by Cornell to operate the software and do the leg work to inventory the Island’s more than 60 miles of town roads. Mr. Card said the money would be found in the Highway Department’s budget.

With knowledge of the exact conditions of the roads, grants of state and federal money for improvements becomes easier to secure, Mr. Card said.

Another advantage, he added, is with the software system, the town can find out “which roads absolutely have to get done now.”

Councilman Peter Reich agreed, saying, “I’d rather do it scientifically that who screams the loudest.”

Councilman Ed Brown was not immediately convinced.

“Jay’s done a good job of presenting information to us that we necessarily can’t afford,” Mr. Brown said. “I’ve voted against studies in the past. I’m not a huge fan of studies.”

The project shouldn’t be put in the category of studies, Mr. Cronin countered. “It’s a baseline of what conditions are and something that we’ll continue to use in the future,” he said. “It doesn’t commit you to spend money to fix a problem.”

Councilwoman Lewis said there were times to “bite the bullet” and spend money. “We have to start facing the fact that we can’t just keep assuaging the taxpayers’ anxiety by telling them we won’t charge them much, unless we want to go back to the horse and buggy,” Ms. Lewis said.

Mr. Brown finally said he could support the project, convinced it will attract grant money and wouldn’t necessarily trigger commitments from the town take on roadwork on its own.
In other business:

The board discussed revamping the fee scale for the Zoning Board of Appeals and tabled the discussion for a future meeting.

Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar reported that the one-day parking pass program instituted last year was a success with 133 of the $20 passes issued by her office. The total for all parking passes last year was $45,875, more than $5,000 more than in 2013.

The same rates will apply for 2015, with a weekly pass going for $35, monthly passes for $75 and a seasons’ pass costing $700.