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Town Board work session on Center wastewater solutions 

Town Engineer Joe Finora fielded questions at Tuesday’s Town Board work session after outlining the advantages of using a central septic system rather than individual I/A septics to treat Center wastewater.

Although comments pro and con were generally respectful, there was one brief encounter in which resident Bob Kohn and Supervisor Gerry Siller tangled. Mr. Kohn accused the supervisor of allowing those who agree with him to exceed a three-minute period to speak.

Mr. Siller said he would give Mr. Kohn more time after others who wanted to comment had their turn. When Mr. Kohn refused to stop and Mr. Siller ordered him to retake his seat, it looked like the session could become antagonistic.

But it quickly calmed and Mr. Kohn got opportunities to speak on that issue and other subjects later in the meeting.

He argued the town was using fear tactics to push through the initiative it preferred. His reference apparently was to warnings that high nitrate levels in the Center were endangering people’s health, especially for elderly residents, young children and pregnant women.

He cited numbers Mr. Finora said were incorrect about the reduction of nitrogen the Nitrex central system — proposed by town engineering consultant Pio Lombardo — could produce versus use of individual I/A systems.

Although Mr. Kohn said the output from both systems was only about a 1% difference, Mr. Finora said the Lombardo system would reduce nitrogen to at least 3 mg. per liter, while the I/A systems would reduce nitrogens to about 19%. Nitrogens above 10% are considered dangerous in drinking water.

Mr. Finora described using the Nitrex system as the best for the long-term reduction of poisonous water. He also noted that Mr. Lombardo’s Nitrex system has been shown in other venues to achieve the greatest reduction in nitrogen of any others.

Ironically, Mr, Kohn and Michael Shatken were the two major objectors to the central system with both commenting on their surprise that for once they agreed with each other on an issue.

On wastewater treatment, Mr. Shatken said there are other strategies the town could take, including requiring the installation of I/A systems whenever a property changed hands.

There was also a call from resident Alison McIntosh about educational initiatives so residents could learn how to cut down on contaminants reaching water supplies.

Most who spoke at the meeting had praise for the Town Board in dealing with the need to lower nitrate levels in the Center that pose threats to health.

A few insisted the estimated $3.1 million the Lombardo central treatment system is expected to cost would not be worth the money since they said it would only divert runoff that goes to Menantic Creek to instead land in Gardiners Creek. They insisted the money could be better spent installing commercial nitrogen-reducing I/A systems in each of the municipal buildings and the library and school.

Mr. Finora encouraged installation of I/A residential systems where possible on the Island. But he disputed costs of commercial I/A systems would be at least $1 million less than the Lombardo system. He also said the Lombardo system would be more effective in reducing the nitrogen levels in the Center buildings.

The wastewater treated by a central system proposed for Manwaring Road, across from the Sylvester Manor farm stand, would not adversely affect Sylvester Manor’s property, Mr. Finora said.

When an environmental study is presented by P.W. Grosser, a town-hired environmental consulting firm, at the April 4 work session, questions submitted by Sylvester Manor’s engineers will be addressed, Supervisor Gerry Siller said.

Kristian Clark, who operates the White Oak Farm & Gardens at the corner of North Ferry and Manwaring roads, raised questions about how groundwater quantity might be affected. Mr. Finora said the plan is to return as much water to safely replenish the aquifer as possible.

To Mr. Clark’s followup question why Fiske Field couldn’t be used for the central system, Mr. Finora said it would disrupt use of the site for athletics. Mr. Siller asked Mr. Clark about concerns mentioned in the Reporter of construction affecting his business. Mr. Clark acknowledged he has some concern, but wanted to discuss it at another time.

Critics maintained variances needed for the I/A systems would be easily approved by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services as long as they improved the nitrogen levels.

Mr. Finora clarified after the meeting a statement about extensions of the system to areas beyond the Center. He said state law requires that a referendum has to take place for any extension, and the capacity of the system would not allow it to serve other areas.

If people in an area want such a system, they would have to approve it, Mr. Finora said. It’s not something this Town Board or any Town Board could do without a referendum.

But past experience has shown that there’s no guarantee the variances would be approved. Mr. Finora pointed out the town has twice received rejections of variances requested from the Health Department. A number of years ago, there was a plan to improve septics at the Community Center, but needed variances were rejected by the Health Department, Mr. Finora said.

When the town sought a similar pump-out system for the Crescent Beach bathroom or use of an I/A system, the Health Department refused those options, Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams said. For that reason, the town has a portable trailer serving as a bathroom at the beach.

The town can’t simply pump effluent out and take it off Island for disposal on a regular basis, Mr. Siller said. It’s something the Health Department approved for the Bridge Street bathroom after a lengthy battle.

But it wouldn’t budge on a plan to do the same thing at Crescent Beach.

Another advantage of a central system, Mr. Finora said, is the ability to retrofit it for emerging contaminants. That’s not easily done with I/A systems, he said.