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Shelter Island Reporter editorial: Listening to reason

Water quality, as this space has noted time and time again, is among the most significant issues for Islanders who are largely dependent on private wells.

A “significant issue” is really an understatement, since the last three Town Hall administrations, along with the current one, have spent the majority of their time coming to grips with poisoned ground and surface waters.

The retirement of Albert Dickson from the Town Board — https://shelterislandreporter.timesreview.com/2022/01/23/albert-dickson-celebrated-for-service-fought-for-clean-water-and-abiding-by-development-rules/ —who never stopped pushing an agenda of strong action on water quality, should inspire everyone in town government to take up the commitment he showed, as the Island again faces decisions on how to ensure safe drinking water coming from our single-source aquifer.

Now, there are proposals on the table to remedy a dire situation, and a debate has been joined on which path to take.

The Center’s water is much worse than other parts of the Island because of the concentration of public buildings, including the Town Hall complex, the Police headquarters, Justice Court, the Center Firehouse, Shelter Island Library, the Community Center and Shelter Island School.

A solution to the problem, recently proposed by the Town’s engineering consultants, Lombardo Associates, is to pipe effluent from the Center buildings to an underground wastewater treatment facility to be constructed at Klenawicus Field — https://shelterislandreporter.timesreview.com/2022/01/26/airfield-not-a-done-deal-for-septic-plant-alternative-sites-to-be-explored/.

There are real problems with this plan. One drawback, as the neighbors of the airfield and research by the Reporter has pointed out, is a history of serious flooding at one area of the field, which could drastically affect a treatment system.

And, as important, if not more, is that the airfield is preserved land, bought with tax dollars, to keep it as open space, and to ensure the aquifer underneath is not stressed in any way.

Several other locations were examined as possible locations, and all originally rejected by the consultants for one reason or another, with the airfield chosen as the most viable site for the septic system. Town Engineer Joe Finora applauded the study, saying, “The one we’re proposing is the way to go.”

But through an active, reasonable (mostly) group of residents, many who live near the airfield, making their voices heard in public forums, speaking to public officials, and on the letters page of this newspaper, Lombardo Associates has said that other options will be thoroughly researched. We applaud the consultants for meeting publicly and listening to concerned Islanders.

The neighbors of the airfield, and the members of the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board — who have worked tirelessly to acquire and protect preserved properties — must be listened to and consulted.

And now it seems they have a seat at the table with the Town Board to make a decision that will keep neighborhoods intact, and get to the bottom of solving critical water issues for the Island.