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New information from County Health Department on Center wastewater project

As the Town Board continues to push forward with a unified wastewater treatment system for several Center buildings — one recommended by Town consultants Lombardo Associates — there are potential obstacles in its path, according to a letter from a Suffolk County Department of Health Services official to the Town.

County Health Department officials in the Office of Ecology are calling for a preliminary engineering feasibility study, comparing the environmental impacts to water supplies and surface waters from discharges resulting from the proposed unified Nitrex system, versus installation of individual Innovative Alternative (I/A) systems for each building.

The buildings that need wastewater treatment include the Library, Police Department headquarters, the Community Center, the Firehouse and Justice Hall.

The County Health Department received the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) short form along with other material from P.W. Grosser, the consulting firm hired by the Town Board to develop an environmental report. Grosser sent the information to the Health Department with a letter dated Nov. 17.

Based on an initial review of the information —  considered a “pre-submission” to a formal application for Health Department approval — a letter of Dec. 13 from Environmental Analyst Julia Priolo noted that nothing in the comments should be construed as an implicit Health Department approval or rejection of the project.

She said the Nitrex system has met the department’s standards in other communities. But she voiced other concerns.

Comments in Ms.  Priolo’s letter include:

• Agreement with P.W. Grosser that the Nitrex system would have to be approved by the State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) for discharges to surface waters. The town would have to provide a site plan for the Health Department  to determine whether water and/or wastewater requirements are met.

• The discharge of a new treatment system can’t be within 300 feet of a public water supply well. The proposed site for the Nitrex sewer treatment plant, on Manwaring Road across from the Sylvester Manor farm stand, poses concerns. The Sylvester Manor property is categorized as a “transient non-community public water system” and has been considered for a community well in the future. Impacts to such a well would need to be evaluated.

• The sewer treatment plant site is also within the  “groundwater contributing zone of the Happy Groundhog community public water supply system.” As part of the Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan, the proposed discharge location fails to comply with Health Department requirements for construction of a sewage disposal system.

• There are potential groundwater concerns with contaminants/byproducts with the current proposed use of ozone treatment and its effectiveness plus potential for groundwater contamination should be evaluated.

The idea of using commercial I/A systems in each of the Center buildings, rather than piping wastewater from the buildings to another location to be treated, was first proposed to the Town Board in October by Christopher Gobler, Ph.D., director of the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at SUNY Stony Brook. He was hired by Friends of Coecles Harbor, a civic group that sprung up during discussions of the Center wastewater project.

Mr. Gobler recommended using the individual nitrogen-reducing I/A 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 contaminate Gardiner’s Creek.

Despite his career experience and familiarity with Shelter Island, Mr. Gobler was publicly criticized by Pio Lombardo, the Town’s consultant, whose firm recommended use of the Nitrex system.

Supervisor Gerry Siller said the Health Department letter dated Dec. 15 did not reach the Town Board until Dec. 20 when it was forwarded by a consultant from P.W. Grosser.

The letter was generated by the Department of Health in connection with the SEQRA review for the project and the Town also received letters from the New York State Department of Transportation and expects other agencies to weigh in going forward. 

 “All of the contents in the County letter were known and expected,” Mr. Siller said.

“It would be premature and inappropriate for the Town Board to open public discussion on this until the SEQRA process is complete,” he said. “The Town Board, as well as our engineers and consultants, will comment in the normal course of our SEQRA review.”