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Shelter Island Letters to the Editor: Jan. 21, 2022

Objectivity on the issue of clean water

To the Editor:

David Olsen’s letter (Jan. 13) contained defamatory statements about me. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not allowed to make defamatory/libelous statements without legal consequences.

It’s disappointing the Reporter published defamatory comments and enabled the lack of civility, decorum and objectivity on such an important issue. Mr. Olsen’s callous indifference to the fact that there is/has been serious groundwater contamination caused by septic systems, is a serious disservice to residents relying on that impaired water supply. His failure to not read those portions of our report providing factual information, as well as the lack of an area in the Center that is outside public health septic–well setback requirements, doesn’t speak well of his motives.

Our firm’s experience is described on our web site, LombardoAssociates.com. I’m a New York State registered professional engineer with 50 years experience engineering greater than $200 million of municipal and private wastewater projects throughout the U.S., which received numerous prestigious engineering awards. I’ve engineered greater than 50 wastewater systems in Suffolk County that do not use the Nitrex system.

If Mr. Olsen is knowledgeable of a better system than the proposed Nitrex for the Town, then make a case, rather than throwing defamatory, unprofessional and unfounded comments against the wall to see what sticks. This type of behavior should not be enabled by our critically important free press.

The story in the same edition on a history of flooding near the airfield quotes a resident regarding problems at the southern end of Klenawicus Airfield and Congdon Road. The story did not provide me the opportunity to provide the following data, which is contained at the Town’s website — shelterislandtown.us/upcoming-hearings-pending-laws.

The State of New York Coastal New York Future Floodplain Mapper provides projections on flooding caused by Sea Level Rise scenarios — services.nyserda.ny.gov/SLR_Viewer/. Figures of the wastewater system layout show the southern end of Klenawicus Airfield and Congdon Road are flooded, whereas the area of the proposed wastewater treatment facility on the northern end of the airfield near Burns Road  —2,000-feet north of Congdon Road — is not.

It is technically reasonable to extrapolate that this type of flooding scenario (portions of airfield flooded while other areas are not flooded) will occur during extreme climatic events as occurred in 2010.

Don’t hesitate to contact me at (617) 964-2924 or E-mail [email protected] with questions. We will be pleased to provide information for an objective determination of project issues.

PIO LOMBARDO, P.E., Lombardo Associates

Toxicity data

To the Editor:

Having attended and/or listened to all the presentations and discussions concerning the proposed sewage treatment facility to be sited in the Town-owned Klenawicus Airfield preserve, I have heard several statements that are concerning.

Joe Finora’s repeated statements that the majority of the Center’s ground water flows toward Coecles Harbor so the airfield area is getting these nitrates now, is categorically false. The actual water flow based on land contours and watersheds as indicated on the web site, mainstreetmaps, shelter island gis, shows that only the Building Department, Police Department and Justice Hall buildings are in the Coecles Harbor watershed. The other buildings listed in the project proposal producing the majority of the volume, drain into other watersheds to the west and south. The John Cronin and Andrie Oraseanu Nitrate Analysis report of 2019 clearly shows that the highest concentrations of nitrates are along Midway Road to the west and Sunshine Road to the south.

The toxicity data from the sewage water leaving the Nitrex System does not seem to be available on line and was not provided in the Lombardo Associates proposal, and Lombardo invented the system. All they have reported is that it would contaminate the aquifer for 50 years. So, what is the composition of the final waste water?

I heard a councilman in a public meeting state that, “The homeowners around the Klen field site should feel positive about doing something good for the community’s school children, municipal employees and other residents, by being the recipients of the sewage water.” This is beyond the pale. That water will contaminate and permanently degrade the airfield aquifer for years, according to Lombardo Associates.

As a resident of the impacted area, taking one for the team is not acceptable.

Finally, the concept of taking highly concentrated nitrate sewage water from a part of town that has the highest concentration of nitrates on the island and putting it in an area that was purchased by the town for aquifer recharge, and has some of the lowest levels of nitrates on the island, is absurd.

JOHN KERR, Shelter Island

Ideas on water quality

To the Editor:

I have a couple of thoughts on the proposed waste disposal plan, coming in no particular order. While I don’t necessarily see it as the travesty some do, that may be because I have not yet visualized all the outcomes.

First, the only reason we have to do this is because the County Board of Health Services is unreasonable. While they have had us put warnings about nitrates for 60 years, they presumably won’t let us improve things unless we make them perfect. This makes no sense, in as much as we would be dramatically improving the quality of the output of the septic systems, which they have let us poison ourselves with for over half a century. Better is evidently not good enough.

The County Board has a “money is no object” mentality. That is, as long as it is someone else’s money, they will not object. We have seen this elsewhere, at the Presbyterian Church, at the Senior Center. It is what they do.

I also think that the idea put forth in the proposal that the shortest time to surface waters is best is not taking the health of the bays into consideration. Generally, we ask people for more, not less, distance to surface waters.

Is it unreasonable to suggest that we apply to the County Board for a variance from the code? After all, since they do not mandate the new system technology, the standards are for systems inferior to what is proposed.

Of course, one has to consider the possibility that this is all part of their never-ending drive to get us on public water. Why make it easy for us? I don’t know … but I have a lot of questions for those selling us this system.

PAUL SHEPHERD, Former councilman, Town of Shelter Island


To the Editor:

The proposal to collect wastewater from Town properties in the Center and treat it on the Klenawicus Airfield site should be rejected.

While we need to care for our aquifer, the consultant’s report does not demonstrate that this project is the most appropriate way to do that. The report shows nitrogen levels in excess of the EPA standard in the school well, while the levels in the other two reported Center wells are well within safe drinking standards. If there is a problem with water quality in the Center it should be solved locally.

There is no information in the report, positive or negative, about the impact of the proposed system. Frankly I find this shocking at a stage where this proposal is being actively considered by the Town. What will be the impacts on ground water, both in the Center and around the proposed treatment facility? It would be irresponsible to proceed without knowing these.

If a collective sewerage treatment system for properties in the Center is deemed necessary, it should be located as close as reasonably possible to where the waste is being generated (Fiske Field or the school ball field should not be ruled out), not piped a mile and a half away, both for cost reasons and because treating waste from the Center in somebody else’s neighborhood is patently inequitable.

As an engineer in today’s inflationary environment, I fully expect the capital and O&M costs of the proposed project to be significantly higher than those estimated in the report and that the taxpayers will be left with the bill.

The Town says it acquired the Klenawicus property in 2011 to preserve the aquifer — shelterislandtown.us/klenawicus-airfield. The then-supervisor said the property was on top of “a sweet spot” in the Island’s fragile sole-source aquifer. Its preservation, he said, would help protect groundwater from the effects of development (Reporter, April 28, 2011). The Klenawicus family worked with the Town in good faith to ensure this land would be preserved. Surely it contravenes at least the spirit of the acquisition to locate a sewerage treatment plant on it.


The unruly garden

To the Editor:

I enjoy Ambrose Clancy’s annual update on Lake Superior State University’s maintenance of the English language (Word(s) of 2021), Jan. 13). It’s a refreshing, humorous and welcome alert of what we’re doing and what we’re saying. Apt phrases spring up like weeds in the unruly garden of our English language, and in a while, we’ll know which escape underwatering or overwatering to reach the nirvana of being re-defined into flowers — words we live by.

None of the phrases listed, however, appear to be a candidate.

YVONNE KORSHAK, Shelter Island

The following letters from readers were received after the Reporter’s print deadline this week. They will be included in Letters to the Editor in the Jan. 27 print edition of the paper.

More study required

To the Editor:

As a resident of Burns Road, I want to add additional concerns to the excellent points already raised by others questioning the selection process of the airfield as a site for wastewater disposal as follows:

The facility will require emergency standby power, a requirement not mentioned in the report. The generator will require weekly testing, typically for a half hour per week, which will be a source of noise. The generator will require substantial above ground fuel storage with secondary containment walls in the event of a spill. These types of industrial installations are not in keeping with the pristine and unspoiled landscape.

There is the added concern of placing a critical facility with fuel storage adjacent to a runway. (Our firm has worked on the design of marine and aviation fuel storage facilities, so I’m quite familiar with their appearance.)

The Wastewater Treatment Engineering Report does not assess the impact of an additional 6,000 gallons of water per day on the groundwater elevation, or the dangers of the fluctuating groundwater level on the ability of the system to function properly. An added concern is the potential for basement flooding in the area. 

The report has only a single test date for groundwater elevation and longer-term test well observations are warranted. The area has a history of flooding north and south of the property in the two freshwater wetlands. The flood maps provided (worrisome in their own right) refer only to tidal flooding, not flooding from rainwater runoff. Historic maps of freshwater flooding should be included as well.

That more practical and less fraught locations were ignored in the report is a source of concern. At 7.9 acres, Fiske Field has ample setbacks from adjacent well and septic installations and would require minimal trenching for access (the current proposal requires over a mile of excavation, piping and restoration), but this site is ignored in favor of other nearby tiny and unworkable locations selected for study.

Fiske Field is owned by the Shelter Island School District, which contributes 1/3 of the anticipated load on the system (and possibly a greater percentage because of anomalies in how load is calculated), and is a logical choice, at least for a thorough investigation.

This proposed system needs far more study before a site selection is finalized.

DAVID KRIEGEL, Shelter Island

Seriously reconsider

To the Editor:

At the Jan. 11 work session, the Town Board reviewed the Municipal Wastewater Treatment Proposal. The meeting was informative and the town engineer did a good job in presenting a complex subject. This is an important initiative as the Town Board takes difficult steps towards addressing water related issues.

I commend the Board for moving on this issue, one that is likely to be fraught with controversy and hopefully will be part of a larger strategy to address the Island’s long-term environmental/water related issues.

Nonetheless, I hope that the Board seriously reconsiders the part of the proposal to locate the wastewater treatment facility at the Klenawicus Airfield, on preserved land. The airfield is land acquired through the Community Preservation Fund that was intended for open space. Indiscriminately utilizing preserved land for other than its intended purpose, may well chill future potential acquisitions by the CPF Committee, as potential sellers hesitate, seeing that their property may not in fact be used only as preserved open space land.

This would be a terrible blow to the Island.

For the Town to consider utilizing CPF acquired property for other than its intended usage, there must be an extremely compelling reason with no reasonable alternative. That is not the case here, as there are other viable sites and the town engineer during the meeting, in dialog with me, indicated that other sites like Fiske Field were in fact viable alternatives.

My guess is that proceeding with the airfield location would be an invitation to litigation that CPF property is not being properly utilized. Even if the town is successful in such litigation, the project as a whole would be needlessly delayed. Hopefully, by considering other alternative sites, the town can move more expeditiously to address the issues at the municipal buildings.

Finally, perhaps now is also the time — through the Comprehensive Plan? — to review other long-term potential solutions to environmental/water matters, including analyzing whether utilizing a public water system would be for the betterment of the local aquifer and long-term protection of clean water.

BILL MASTRO, Shelter Island

A moral case

To the Editor:

I feel we are getting ahead of ourselves in debating the suitability of Klenawicus Airfield as the site of a proposed town sewage treatment plant, when the elemental issue is the agreement regarding the use of the land at the time of sale, in 2011, between the Klenawicus family (the seller) and the Town and County (the buyers), respectively.

This was not a sale between private parties, with the buyer making vague promises not to develop the property. This was a well documented public agreement. The money used for the purchase came from the Town’s Community Preservation Fund, which is set aside for the purchase and preservation of open space.

In agreeing to make this acquisition, both the Town and County were principally concerned with the fact that the airfield is located over Shelter Island’s main aquifer. The primary objective was thus to preserve the underlying water table and protect it from contamination.

The Klenawicus family already, “took one for the greater good of the Island” in 2011, when they were asked to sacrifice their land, which they had owned for generations, and which everyone knew was rapidly increasing in value, for the protection of the Island’s aquifer and open space, by selling the land, which surrounds their ancestral homestead, for a little over $4 Million. They didn’t need to sell the land, which now, just 10 years later, is already worth over $20 Million.

Put quite simply, the Klenawicus family would presumably not have sold the land if they knew the town would try to renege on the agreement. No one in their right mind would agree to sell the land surrounding their home for any amount of money, and in exchange knowingly have a sewage treatment plant built directly next to their house.

Not only is there a strong legal case against the town’s attempt to break the land use agreement, but surely in this tight-knit community there is also a strong moral case against the town treating one of its own this way.

PETER ANSEL, Shelter Island

Potential consequences

To the Editor:

I join my neighbors in the concerns they have raised about the ground water impact of the treatment facility proposed on the Klenawicus preserve.

In addition to considering the immediate environmental impact of the proposed facility, I think we would be acting negligently as a community if we did not fully consider all potential consequences of it. We can’t ignore its future possible implications.

Implicit in the construction of such a system is the possibility at some time in the future, near or far, to allow the public to connect to it, and the environmental impact of such an event must be studied and considered prior to any decision.

Good planning should consider knowable/imaginable present and future implications, possibilities or opportunities, and the public should be fully informed and have the chance to engage in a healthy dialogue before any final decision-making on the part of the Town.

VALERIE MARVIN, Shelter Island

Just no

To the Editor:

About that sewage treatment proposal: No.

No to moving effluent across the Island, digging up streets and polluting a precious aquifer.

No to spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars into the future and in perpetuity.

Just no.

The issue is elevated levels of nitrates in the school wells. Fix the problem there.

And don’t rush to make a decision because there is infrastructure money available from the federal government.

Put the brakes on and consider the damage this will do.

LISA RICHLAND, Shelter Island