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Center wastewater project clogged up: Environmentalists, experts, raise concerns

The Center wastewater project ran into what could be major blockage Tuesday night.

Experts familiar with the area where the treatment plant was slated to be located, and specifics of the project, warned the Town Board not to rush forward.

They applauded the Town for seeking to deal with nitrates in the Center’s wastewater, but questioned the proposal for treatment that could raise more serious nitrogen problems in Gardiners Creek.

The Board was poised to set a public hearing on whether it should use Water Quality Improvement Funds to pay for engineering and permitting of the project.

The idea is to remove wastewater from municipal buildings in the Center and pipe it to a treatment system on Manwaring Road. An original proposal, to site a wastewater treatment plant at Klenawicus Airfield to service buildings in the Center, was scrapped after neighbors orgnized against it and a Reporter article noted that the area is subject to periodic and severe flooding.

While several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting applauded the effort to deal with the nitrogen concentrations in the Center, they said even treated effluent — liquid waste or sewage — would pose dangers of greater nitrogen concentrations in the creek.

Christopher Gobler, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, was ready to make the case, but was told he was only allowed three minutes to speak at the Town Board meeting.

Supervisor Gerry Siller invited him to speak at next Tuesday’s Town Board work session when he will be allotted whatever time it takes to explain his concerns.

Mr. Gobler knows the waters around Shelter Island well; he did his doctorate thesis on the Island. For 20 years, he’s researched the role excessive nitrogen has played in degrading Long Island’s fisheries and water quality, according to his biography published by the university.

Bill Derrough, president of Friends of Coecles Harbor, introduced him to the Town Board, asking that before they took any action, they listen to Mr. Gobler’s advice.

In a brief overview, Mr. Gobler said while he applauds the Town’s effort to deal with the nitrogen content in the Center, there are more effective and cost-effective ways to solve the problem without directing treated — but still dangerous — wastewater into Gardiners Creek from the treatment system envisioned on Manwaring Road across from the Sylvester Manor farm stand.

Executive Director of Peconic Baykeeper Pete Topping, another expert on Peconic Estuary waters, said while he was pleased the Town was trying to solve its nitrogen problem, he was concerned the result of the plan under consideration would improve one area “while putting the onus on another.”

His other concern was that even if the system being contemplated is effective for the buildings it’s meant to  serve, it could encourage greater development in the Center that would increase the amount of nitrogen going to the treatment system.

The discussion started with Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca, who told the Town Board to review the 12 criteria for using Water Quality Funding, noting that the project meets many of the requirements.

But he said he has concerns about whether surface waters around the treatment system would be adequately protected. He also questioned whether the project might result in unintended new development in the Center.

Given the investment in the project, Mr. DeLuca said he questioned whether the Town was “getting the best bang for the buck.”

Residents in the area have expressed concerns about the treatment system being placed in their area. Until now, they have received assurances they wouldn’t be adversely affected by noise, odors or problems from the treated effluent.

But another concern they had was the potential expansion of the treatment system in their neighborhood if it was ever connected to other Island areas.

The discussion will continue at Tuesday’s 1 p.m. Town Board work session when Mr. Gobler will be presenting a detailed explanation of his concerns.