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Back to drawing boards: Center septic proposal axed three years in

After more than three years of planning and seeking grants to offset expenses, the project to install a nitrogen-reducing septic system at Legion Hall that would also serve one-third of the Shelter Island School building, has been abandoned.

Town officials said Suffolk County Department of Health Services requirements made the plan impossible.

An even larger project, that could serve several public buildings in the Center, is now under discussion. Town and school officials hope financial grant sources will smile on the revised plans and provide funding.

The original project couldn’t go forward because of a broken well serving the Legion Hall. Officials said it would either have to be repaired, or a new well put in that has to be located at least 300 feet from where the nitrogen-reducing septic system was to be installed.

Moving the well to such a location is impossible, according to Town Engineer John Cronin, and repairing it in place would prohibit installation of an I/A (Innovative Alternative) system.

Mr. Cronin suggested the expanded project that could serve the Legion Hall; the entire school complex, rather than just a third; Shelter Island Library; the Center Firehouse; and eventually the Town Hall complex of buildings.

Since Mr. Cronin introduced the idea last week, town, school and library officials have signed on to the idea. On Monday night, Mr. Cronin plans to speak with the Board of Fire Commissioners, hoping to enlist their support.

The Legion Hall, which also houses the town’s recreation program and youth center, belongs to the town and is frequently used for community events. Some have had to be relocated to other venues pending repairs to the well. Those repairs are expected to move forward quickly after permission was given to Public Works Commissioner Brian Sherman by the Town Board at its Tuesday work session.

As for the system now envisioned, Mr. Cronin got the green light Tuesday to move forward with a request for proposals from engineering services to design a system that would serve the various buildings. There’s no price tag on what such a clustered system would cost, but the engineering study costs would be paid by the Legion, school, library and town.

Mr. Cronin told the Water Advisory Committee at its Monday night meeting it would be at least 2021 before any construction gets underway.

He had already met with school officials late in the week before learning there was an interest in a system that would replace all three of that building’s septic systems — one installed in 1925, which the school is mandated by the Health Department to replace; a second installed in 1950 when an addition was added to the building; and a third installed in 1992 with a further building addition, according to Mike Dunning who manages building and grounds responsibilities for the school district.

The new proposal is “going to be costly,” Mr. Dunning told the Board of Education at a special Tuesday morning meeting. But he was hoping state grant money would help offset the project if it’s determined that a cluster system is the way to go.

The engineering study alone could cost several hundred thousand dollars, he told the Board of Education.

If the district moved on its own to install a workable system, it would likely not cost less, Acting Superintendent Allan Gerstenlauer told the school board Tuesday morning. Members agreed to continue to explore the possibilities of the proposed system.

The Water Advisory Committee (WAC) on Monday night unanimously endorsed the concept after Mr. Cronin explained the obstacles that had rendered the earlier project unworkable.

Mike Bebon, who chairs the WAC, also is on the Library Board of Directors, and had elicited interest in the expanded concept. Mr. Bebon said it’s in line with the strategic plan for the library to be involved in a common wastewater system.

By the time Mr. Cronin sat down with the entire Town Board at its Tuesday work session, he was met with enthusiasm.

“It’s the right way to go,” Councilman Jim Colligan said of the clustered system. “It’s got to be done.” Not only was the problem not improving, it’s getting “progressively worse,” he added.

Councilman Paul Shepherd said he was “super pleased” that the concept was under consideration, and Supervisor Gary Gerth said it was a great idea.

The next steps, the board agreed, besides developing the request for proposals for engineering services, is to write to those who helped secure grants for the initial project — County Legislators Bridget Fleming (D-Noyak) and Al Krupski (D-Peconic) and Sarah Lansdale, director of the Suffolk County Division of Planning and Environment — to thank them for their efforts and explain why the money is not being spent.

Those officials had worked to secure $$49,500 for the town’s anticipated $100,000 project through the Suffolk County Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program.

On the school side, Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) had brought $250,000 to the party to cover a number of projects, including about $70,000 for the septic system. That money is now going for repairs to two school bathrooms that need serious improvements because of asbestos and mold problems.

Often, when grant money is unused but there is the expectation that it could be drawn on, it becomes more difficult to get a subsequent grant, Mr. Cronin said. But in this case, the project originally planned couldn’t be carried out because of the requirements of the county’s Health Department, and he thinks the larger proposal could justify renewed consideration.