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Siller: Hiring project manager ‘a biggie’: Town Board discusses implementing water plan

“This is a biggie. Are we ready for a project manager?”

Town Board members were left to consider that question put them by Supervisor Gerry Siller at the June 2 Town Board work session in relation to the Water Advisory Committee’s Ground and Surface Water Plan.

Someone needs to own this, said Councilman Mike Bebon, chairman of the Water Advisory Committee (WAC).

“It’s a complex plan for a very complex problem,” Mr. Bebon told his colleagues. He believes that without a project manager, the many proposals contained in the report won’t be implemented for a lack of leadership. Volunteer committee members have given a lot of time and energy to creating the plan, but there’s a need for a professional to move it forward.

Town Engineer Joe Finora agreed, saying the plan is comprehensive and aspects needed for implementation could fall by the wayside without a qualified person shepherding it. The right person might be able to take charge of the water plan and be able to tackle some other needs, Mr. Finora said.

The position needs to be defined, Mr. Siller said, while suggesting money from the Water Quality Improvement Projects account might be a means of funding the position.

Councilman Jim Colligan suggested exploring how the other East End towns faced with many of the same water quality problems are approaching problems. He suggested it might be possible to share a project manager with at least one of the other towns. Shelter Island and Southold have shared services pertaining to the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) efforts to deal with runoff of water into Peconic Bay.

Mr. Bebon expressed concerns about sharing services, noting that Shelter Island lacks many of the specific departments the other larger four municipalities have that enable them to have professionals on board.

Mr. Colligan had reviewed the entire plan the WAC put forth and suggested dividing it into four steps:

• Issues that lend themselves to implementation between now and the end of September

• Those that could be reasonably taken on by Dec. 20

• Those that could be reasonably completed by June 2022

• The more difficult steps that could be started immediately but would be open-ended in terms of completion

His outline contained a number of steps to be taken now. But members agreed to review his ideas and return on Tuesday with their input.

Among the topics briefly discussed that will be addressed further are:

• Whether to require all new construction to include installation of a nitrogen-reducing  Innovative/Alternative (I/A) septic systems— something Suffolk County could implement

• Efforts to change regulations that resulted in grant recipients for the I/A systems having to pay taxes on the money, again, something Suffolk County is exploring

• Whether to continue to limit spending to $100,000 on I/A system grants or to expand that amount to provide money for more systems to be installed

A look back

Although the Town Board is looking ahead at ways to protect water, a revision to a previously approved application for a special permit came under scrutiny with Councilman Albert Dickson raising question about potential water use.

In October 2019, Seth and Bonnie Harris got approval for changes to their property at 6 Bootleggers Alley and 4 Nostrand Parkway. They subsequently applied for a change to that permit that wouldn’t change the footprint of the project.

What concerned Mr. Dickson is the presence of a room in an accessory building that former owners could have used as a bedroom. Town Code says an accessory building can’t have more than two bedrooms and no kitchen. As it existed there were three bedrooms. Planners for the changes said there will be no kitchen and that a door and walls around that third room were being eliminated and the space would be used as an office. Still, Mr. Dickson said he feared the room could be restored as a bedroom at a later date and that could constitute more water use on the property.

As Mr. Dickson saw it, the code allows loop holes to exist that could increase water use and he wants to plug those.

But under the existing code, what the applicants were seeking was legal and the Town Board couldn’t add restrictions Mr. Dickson sought that could come into play with future code changes.