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Airfield nonstarter for many as septic site: Opposition centers on flooding, preserved land

Despite the best efforts of Town Engineer Joe Finora to make the case for placing a wastewater treatment system at Klenawicus Airfield, it appeared at Tuesday’s work session that few left in favor of the proposal.

The session was held to answer questions about a proposed $3.8 million project to create the septic system to reduce nitrates in drinking water in the Center, which has long been a serious problem affecting the area. Water use is heavy there, which includes Town Hall, the firehouse, the library and Justice Hall. Recommendations by Town-hired engineering consultants Lombardo Associates — and agreed to by Mr. Finora —  that the treatment plant to service those Center buildings be located underground at the field has been met with fierce opposition.

Tuesday’s work session came just a day after a testy encounter between Supervisor Gerry Siller and Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board Chairman Gordon Gooding at Monday’s CPF meeting. Mr. Gooding’s concern, repeated on Tuesday, was using land purchased for the purpose of preservation as a site for wastewater treatment.

On Monday, Mr. Gooding said he had proof Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. had approved use of the airfield, but Mr. Siller countered that only the Town Board could green light any project. Mr. DeStefano had earlier said he was only rendering an opinion on whether such use could legally be allowed at the airfield.

The argument between Mr. Gooding and Mr. Siller escalated with Mr. Siller saying Mr. Gooding was lying and Mr. Gooding telling the supervisor, “You might take a lesson in listening.”

By Tuesday, cooler heads prevailed. But the argument continued.

People who sold their properties to ensure land preservation shouldn’t now find that’s not the case, Mr. Gooding said. Potentially expanding the system to treat additional contaminants, such as prescription drugs and plastic residues, and even expand the facility to serve more areas of the Island, could result in the preserved site turning into a large wastewater treatment system. Stewardship plans for every preserved site need to be developed when properties are acquired and should not be changed to allow other uses, Mr. Gooding said.

There were questions about locating the liquid wastewater treatment system at other sites, including Fiske Field, Sachem’s Woods or a privately owned lot near the library. None provided enough space for potential expansion, Mr. Finora said, and in most cases, failed to provide enough room for Suffolk County requirements for setbacks to separate wells from septic systems.

Councilwoman BJ Ianfolla asked if the Recycling Center had been considered.

There are too many regulatory limits that would preclude such activity at that site, Mr. Finora said.

Penny Kerr, a member of the Green Options Committee and neighbor in the area of the airfield, cited a flood that damaged houses in the area 11 years ago and worried about piping more water into the area — shelterislandreporter.timesreview.com/2022/01/09/wastewater-plant-location-questioned-as-resident-recounts-history-of-flooding-near-airfield/.

Ms. Kerr also expressed concerns about the effect of runoff into Coecles Harbor.

Mr. Finora said solid wastes treated at each of the Center buildings served by the system, and liquid wastes piped to the treatment system at the airfield, would result in better water quality than what currently flows into the waterway.

The engineer was asked if that meant “clean water.”

“Clean is a relative term,” the engineer said. Currently, high levels of nitrates reach Coecles Harbor and the treatment system would reduce levels by about 90%.

As for flooding concerns, he said tests of soil in the area indicate it would be capable of absorbing water.

There were also concerns about Lombardo Associates recommending the use of the Nitrex System, which the firm developed. Mr. Finora said the company gains no remuneration if that’s the treatment system used. It is also one of the few systems approved for use by Suffolk County, and is top of the line compared with other possible systems, he said.

Tuesday’s meeting was only a beginning in the discussion of how to proceed, Mr. Siller said, which will continue at a work session on Tuesday, Jan. 25.