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Town Board fields questions on wastewater treatment system at airfield

Concerns were raised about the Municipal Wastewater Treatment System Report at the Dec. 21 Town Board work session. Many questions focused on the report’s recommendation to place the treatment system underground at Klenawicus Airfield, despite its initial purpose to serve buildings in the Center.

Town Engineer Joe Finora, who has been the point person with the report’s authors — Massachusetts-based Lombardo Associates — agreed there were alternatives to placement, but none with the advantages the airfield affords.

If placement were to be in the elevated Center for the sake of recharging the aquifer with wastewater converted to cleanwater, it would result in greater loss of water because of the slope of the land that would result in more runoff into surrounding water rather than the aquifer, Mr. Finora said. There is only one aquifer, and the slower process of piping wastewater for treatment to the airfield would result in greater recharge, Mr. Finora said.

Add to that the reality that placement of a NitrexTM technology system for treatment and subsurface disposal at the airfield would allow for expansion of equipment to extend service to other areas of the Island and to treat other contaminants in addition to nitrogen.

The NitrexTM system was approved for installation by Suffolk County at the Scully Estate County Park Environmental Center. The results were “exceptional, commonly reducing nitrogen to the range of two to three milligrams per liter of wastewater discharge,” according to the consultant’s report. The New York State standard calls for not more than 10 mg of nitrogen per liter of wastewater discharge to be considered safe in drinking water.

All of those factors would give the airfield a “huge advantage” over other potential sites examined during the study, the town engineer said.

Michael Shatken, who has been volunteering architectural services to the Community Housing Board, asked about the possibility of linking up residences to a Center system.

That’s outside the scope of this study and project, Mr. Finora answered, adding that it would be up to the Town Board to decide on that possibility, he said.

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. pointed out that New York’s Environmental Rights Amendment to the State Constitution, overwhelmingly approved by voters in November, guarantees every New Yorker a right to clean air and water and a healthful environment. With its passage, New York became only the third state in the nation to recognize environmental rights as inalienable.

Supervisor Gerry Siller said he’s looking at the immediate need to deal with the water quality in the Center, but also looking ahead to future efforts.

Representatives of the Shelter Island Pilots Association were on hand asking that they be a part of the discussion. They aren’t objecting to placement of the equipment, but want to ensure there won’t be negative aspects to placing underground equipment within the 17-acre site they manage.

Mr. Siller said it’s his intention to bring various committee chairs involved with aspects of the project, area residents, and certainly the Pilots Association to a work session to discuss the project.

At the same time, Mr. Finora said, there are still questions to be answered that will be found in the development phase.

Councilman Jim Colligan called the project a first step in cleaning up nitrogen, while affording the potential for expansion.

“I’m just excited about the project,” Mr. Colligan said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

Cleaning the airfield site

As the Town is preparing to sign a new contract with the Pilots Association for management of the airfield, Mr. Colligan noted the field itself is pristine. But there’s debris that needs to be cleared in tangled growth around the edges of the field.

There ‘s also a Mayflower van on the property that seems to be entangled in vines and deteriorating that needs to be removed. “It’s becoming kind of a dumping ground,” the councilman said.