Reporter editorial: Salute the septic planners


It has come to our attention that a story on changes in a proposed septic system upgrade for the Center that appeared on the front page of the July 18 Reporter, while factually correct, was read by some as a criticism of local and Suffolk County officials.

Neither Town Engineer John Cronin, nor the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, was at fault for a decision to replace a proposal for a nitrogen-reducing septic system serving the American Legion Hall and one-third of the Shelter Island School. That plan was superseded by a proposal that could treat wastes from several public buildings in the Center.

The initial proposal was based on the best information known when the plan was developed. But circumstances arose that required a change. The main stumbling block was to sufficiently separate a well supplying drinking water from a septic system. The single I/A system (Innovative Alternative) in the Center for multiple buildings became a more attractive alternative and a better use of money.

The current proposal envisions a single underground treatment system that could serve the Legion Hall; the entire school, rather than one-third of that building; the library; town buildings, including Town Hall, the Building and Town Engineering departments; the assessors’ and tax receiver’s office space; the house adjacent to Town Hall purchased for eventual expansion of office space; police headquarters; Justice Court, and the Center Firehouse.

The amount of sewage that could be treated from all of these structures could only be equalled by convincing between 500 to 600 property owners in the Center to convert their cesspools or old septic systems to I/A systems. Townwide, only about 45 property owners have sought conversions to the state-of-the-art systems and most haven’t carried through on the projects. The likelihood that so many Center property owners would agree to convert appears unlikely.

But conversions for these public entities in the Center would set a positive example for the rest of the town, and represent a better use of money.

We applaud representatives of the various entities who have agreed to explore a common system and salute the County Health Department for watching out for the safety of Island drinking water.