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Manor engineer, Town engineer swap views on wastewater systems

Armed with the latest report from an environmental consultant from P.W. Grosser in support of the Nitrex septic treatment system, and referencing previous reports, Town Engineer Joe Finora is fighting back against a report from Sylvester Manor consulting engineer Drew Bennett.

In a report from Mr. Bennett of D.B. Bennett Engineering, the consultant walked back a July 13, 2022 letter of support from Sylvester Manor Executive Director Stephen Searl endorsing the project. In that letter, Mr. Searl threw his  support behind the Town Board’s efforts to gain grant money to fund the design and implementation of the Nitrex project.

Mr. Bennett’s letter of March 30 concluded the siting of the treatment system across from Sylvester Manor’s farm stand would have a detrimental effect on that organization’s wells.

Mr. Finora said this is the first time that all levels of government — federal, state and county — have supported a project with comments and financial support.

The reason, he said, the largest request for a Consolidated Funding Application from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was not forthcoming at this time, is that the project is not yet “shovel ready.”

The Town Board could be faulted for representing the turn down notice as coming only last week, when in fact, a letter to Mr. Finora was dated March 7 announcing the failure to gain the latest funding. The letter encouraged future efforts to seek state funding.

In Mr. Bennett’s letter reversing Sylvester Manor’s endorsement of the project, he cited 26 separate objections. A number of them are listed here with responses from Mr. Finora. The complete letter and responses appear on the town website under the meetings tab where documents related to various issues appear.

Mr. Bennett’s comments are listed in bullet points with Mr. Finora’s responses following in italics.

• Effluent from the system would travel through Sylvester Manor property and through or in close proximity to a number of its water supply wells.

Mr. Finora produced charts showing the flow of effluent would be at least 60 feet from any of those wells.

• The  design flow has increased from 6,300 gallons per day to 8,000 gallons per day.

The gallons per day are at 4,000, but the 8,000 number applies to providing for contingencies. 

The discharge fails to comply with Suffolk County Department of Health standards.

The permitting agency for the project is not the County Health Department but the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, although the project does comply with County requirements related to setbacks and separation distances. To affect neighboring property at Sylvester Manor, the flow would have to travel uphill.

• The conclusion that the site is the best/only site is not compelling.

The statement is subjective and without context. The various reports and discussions have demonstrated the advantages of the Manwaring Road site and the issues affecting alternative sites and why each would not be suitable.

• The use of local units within the Center area should not be discounted since that would meet the County Health Department “best fit” policy that would be easier to manage.

The County previously rejected a separation distance for one of the buildings in the Center that would be a part of this project. Management of multiple systems receiving high nitrogen strength wastewater with higher varying flows would not be easier to manage.

• The soiled aquifer segment from the Center already has contamination it can take decades to cure. It’s not logical to direct that contamination to a higher quality aquifer segment like Sylvester Manor.

There’s no data to support that Sylvester Manor has a higher quality aquifer segment. The Gardiner’s Creek watershed, of which Sylvester Manor is a part, has a higher level of contamination than what is acceptable for potable water. That restricts Sylvester Manor wells from use as public wells and suggests the area is undesirable for future drinking water supplies. Repeated requests for data on Sylvester Manor’s water quality have been ignored.

• Reports from the engineer that treatment would reduce nitrogen levels to 3 mg. per liter are “overly optimistic” and not supported by peer review of the technology.

Nitrex technology has been in service for 25 years and has been independently evaluated by the Suffolk County Department of Health in 2013 and shown to reduce nitrogen to 1.58 mg per liter. Mr. Bennett’s feeling is contradicted by publicly available test data.

Again, the remainder of Mr. Bennett’s comments and Mr. Finora’s responses are on the town website at shelterislandtown.us.