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Shelter Island Reporter editorial: The County Legislature has failed us

As of Tuesday night, July 25, the Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act, years in the making, will not be on the November ballot.

A majority of the Suffolk County Legislature’s members voted against the act — even after scores of residents spoke in support of it as a means of funding initiatives to preserve groundwater quality across the county.

Those supporters made a simple request of their legislators: Let voters decide for themselves by putting the issue on the November ballot as a referendum. But legislators voted 10-7 not to move forward.

“As of last night,” Legislator Al Krupski (D-Peconic), who represents the Island, said Wednesday morning, “it will not be on the ballot.”

“A lot of professionals put a great deal of work into this,” said Mr. Krupski, a strong proponent of groundwater quality. “We are dumping our wastewater into our drinking water, and then it ends up in surface water. You can see it in any creek at low tide — the groundwater flows into the creeks.”

The act would have created a fund — fed by a 1/8 of a cent increase to the county sales tax — to connect homes and businesses in western Suffolk to sewage treatment systems. On the East End, which is almost entirely without sewers, the increase would fund clean-water septic system replacements.

There are some 380,000 septic systems serving private homes across the county and thousands of these older systems are on the North Fork and Shelter Island.

It’s beyond question that, for the East End to remain environmentally sound — and distinct in its beauty and open space from the dense suburbs to the west — these outdated and inefficient systems must be replaced.

The newer ones are expensive at approximately $30,000  apiece, and the act, had it made it onto the ballot and been approved, would have helped with more monetary grants for homeowners.

Considering the pressing need to protect groundwater quality, the Legislature’s vote is indefensible. There is still time to get the act on the November ballot. But the chances of the Legislature taking this up again, and approving it, are slim to say the least.

Those legislators who voted against the act because they believe money should instead be invested in more sewer systems should quickly reconsider their opposition. Those of us fortunate enough to live on the East End know what is at stake here.

The only way forward for this region is preservation of open space, farmland and groundwater. We need the County Legislature to understand this and act accordingly.