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Center clean water advocates expand views: Letter sent to Town officials pushing a counter study

In the past week, the civic organization Friends of Coecles Harbor, has returned to the issue of the Center wastewater project.

In a six-page letter to the Town Board signed by William Derrough, president of the group, he made another stab at pushing for a re-examination of  the I/A systems (Innovative/Alternative) recommended by Christopher Gobler, Ph.D., rather than the Nitrex System advocated by the Town’s consultant, Pio Lombardo of Lombardo Associates.

The letter reiterated Mr. Gobler’s credentials as director of the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at SUNY Stony Brook, and referred to Mr. Lombardo’s criticisms of using an alternative solution to the Center water quality problems.

At the Oct. 11 meeting, at which Mr. Gobler had been invited to present his plan, Mr. Lombardo was seated at the table with the Town Board. The Friends group’s letter said Mr. Lombardo “aggressively attacked” Mr. Gobler’s conclusions. Mr. Gobler has followed up with a further investigation, and additional information was attached to the letter that was also sent to Town Engineer Joe Finora, Town Attorney Stephen Kiely and Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar.

In the followup letter he cited his arguments and included tables comparing the Lombardo Nitrex system with the proposal for installation of commercial I/A systems.

In his letter, Mr. Gobler stated:

• The Suffolk County Department of Health Services “routinely” grants variances for I/A systems that maintain previously existing setbacks between septics and wells.

• The cost of installing the septic systems would be $1.4 million, not the estimated $3.1 million for installation of the Nitrex system recommended by Mr. Lombardo.

“I and others continue to be concerned about environmental risks associated with locating a centralized wastewater treatment facility that will result in ultimate discharge to Gardiner’s Creek,” Mr. Gobler wrote, referring to the site at 16 Manwaring Road recommended by Lombardo. Discharge from the Manwaring treatment facility “will leech nitrogen and other contaminants via groundwater flow to a poorly flushed tidal basin and will newly impact drinking water wells,” Mr. Gobler said.

“In contrast, distributed I/A systems do not alter or pose the same environmental risks,” he said. He further stated money saved by installing I/A systems could be used to fund residential systems in the Center.

Responding to the argument that the Nitrex system could be adapted to treat other emerging contaminants, he said he is “unaware of evidence of elevated levels of those contaminants on the Island.

The full letter from the Friends of Coecles Harbor is available on the group’s website at saveshelterisland.net.

In response to the letter, Mr. Siller said P.W. Grosser will be conducting a full environmental study (SEQRA) of the project before further discussions can be held.

The package from Friends of Coecles Harbor sent to the Town Board and others contained letters of concern from several neighbors of the Manwaring site and a revised statement from Stephen Searl, executive director of Sylvester Manor, who earlier said timing was the reason he couldn’t entertain the possibility of providing land for the septic treatment system.

Earlier, Sara Gordon, who handles planning and sustainability efforts for the Manor, told Mr. Lombardo that Manor officials generally support the project and would be happy to provide information on its seven wells and other engineering information that would be helpful to his ongoing evaluation of the Manwaring site.

In the new statement issued to the Shelter Island Gazette through its editor, Julia Brennan, a former member of the Sylvester Manor Board of Trustees, Mr. Searl said his organization is committed to “following the science.”

Mr. Searl said he applauds the Town Board’s effort to improve water quality in the Center, but the claim that Sylvester Manor officials have fully endorsed the project as stated during the Oct. 11 public presentation is not accurate.

“We are not in a position to endorse the currently proposed project or site at this time,” he said. “We remain committed to studying this proposed project further and following the science wherever it leads.” Sylvester Manor has its own consulting engineer assessing the project and its potential impacts on the neighbors and is supportive of a full environmental review “as required under the law,” Mr. Searl said.