Shelter Island Reporter Editorial: Listening and learning


Two former town councilmen have weighed in on the Town Board’s efforts to confront a crisis. Ed Brown, in an appearance before the Town Board two weeks ago, and Peter Reich, in a letter to the editor this week, are questioning the plans to upgrade the Island’s septic systems to state-of-the art, nitrogen-reducing structures.

Both men brought energy, focus, dedication, hard work and a commitment to working on solutions that helped their fellow Islanders.

As we noted in this space when they retired, Mr. Reich and Mr. Brown were public servants of the old school; civility and respect marked their exchanges with colleagues, petitioners before the board and residents in the audience.

They also had a sense of compromise to get things done and current board members should listen to them.

Mr. Brown argued that requiring transfers of property to include an upgraded septic system would make it impossible — because of the added expense — for many people to buy property here, and that the nitrogen-reducing septics should not be a requirement for all areas of the Island, but only where the location is critical.

Mr. Reich has made a strong argument that the system of applying for grants from the county and town to offset the cost of buying and installing systems is often a descent into a thicket of bureaucracy and incompetence, and dead ends in impossible requirements.

It’s good to see both men engaged in the issue. But, with respect, the overriding concern is that the plans by the current board are essential to take on an environmental emergency that is staring us in the face.

Many — most? — of the septic systems here are sometimes nothing more than holes in the ground, discharging toxic nitrogen into wells and the aquifer that sustains life on the Island.

There is a chance, with the so-called I/A systems, to reverse the trend of dumping poisonous components from human waste into the Island’s water source.

We believe the Island should convert to I/A systems, period. Picking and choosing neighborhoods won’t work, but in fact will further divide the community. And as for working through the system to apply for grants to pay for clean septics, the bugs must be worked out and a streamlined process put in place.

The town can help with the latter, and the real estate businesses on the Island should step up to help people involved in property transfers to make the application processes less headache-provoking.

The ideas put forward by the two community leaders should be listened to. But the board should never lose sight of the one, big idea — protecting the Island’s supply of clean water.