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School supports Center septic plan: Engineer says Town alert to critical timeline

It’s now clear that the Town is committed to moving ahead with its outside consultant’s single septic plan for Center buildings, while acknowledging some concerns voiced by Christopher Gobler, Ph.D., who recommended individual commercial systems.

Town Engineer Joe Finora outlined the plans and schedule at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, promising to develop emergency measures if the school’s aged septic system fails prior to installation of a new one.

“We need the school to continue to participate,” Mr. Finora said, noting the nitrogen content it puts into the system represents the largest contributor to the Center’s problem. “There is a clock ticking down” on the school’s existing septics, Mr. Finora said, and the Town stands ready to take action if it becomes necessary.

Board members expressed continuing support for the Center-wide system that, in addition to treating the school’s effluent, would be serving several town buildings, including the Community Center, the Town Hall complex, the Library and the Center Firehouse.

Mr. Finora called the effort a “once in a generational opportunity” to deal with the nitrogen problem that is a threat to Islanders’ health, resulting in cancers among adults who consume high levels of nitrogen-tainted water over time, and causes serious threats to infants and young children.

Mr. Finora said he’s grateful for Mr. Gobler’s comments, which will have a positive impact on the project, making it more attractive. But Mr. Gobler, the director of the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology, hasn’t presented an actual alternative plan, Mr. Finora said.

Mr. Gobler had recommended using individual commercial nitrogen reducing I/A (Innovative/Alternative) systems in the Center, maintaining they would be less expensive and just as effective. He also said the plan presented by the Town’s consultant, Lombardo Associates, could result in contaminating Gardiner’s Creek.

Mr. Finora disputes those conclusions, saying the individual systems couldn’t reduce the nitrogen content to the extent the Lombardo system would. It would also end up costing more than the projected $3.1 million for the Lombardo system and would result in long delays to get exemptions and permits from the state and county.

Supervisor Gerry Siller, who attended the meeting Monday night, said the Lombardo system would not only reduce nitrogen levels dramatically, but allow for retrofitting that could become necessary should other contaminants emerge.

Mr. Finora pointed out the Center might be thought of as a pizza, where that area represents the middle of the pie. The project would not only improve water quality in the Center, but filter out cleaner water to surrounding areas around the Island, making nitrogen problems less prevalent throughout the Island.

With respect to the timeline, the environmental study is already underway by consulting group P.W. Grosser, with a report expected by the end of this year, or in January.

Once that’s completed, Town officials can apply for permits from Suffolk County and New York State with a decision to be forthcoming within one to three months. If all goes smoothly, the project could be put out to bid within six to eight months and could be underway by the end of 2023.

The Town has already received a $250,000 Suffolk County grant for design work that’s underway and officials are awaiting word on a $2.5 million State grant that would cover most of the cost of the Lombardo system.

The Town Board is committed to the project, even if the State grant money isn’t forthcoming, Mr. Finora said.