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Assemblyman: New law aims at cleaner water: Awaits Senate and governor’s endorsement

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) has won support in the New York State Assembly for a more than $3 billion investment to expand wastewater treatment and nitrogen-reducing septic systems.

According to Mr. Thiele — the architect of legislation creating the Community Preservation Fund, the Water Quality Improvement Fund and the Community Housing Fund — if the new legislation is approved by the New York State Senate and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), it would create a structure in Suffolk County similar to the other funds.

It would place a referendum on the November ballot for Suffolk County voters to choose to participate in a program that would allow a .0125 percent increase to the county sales tax providing money for upgrading existing individual septic systems. That added sales tax would end in 2060.

What separates this proposed fund from the others is it’s not funded by a transfer tax paid by people buying property in each of the participating municipalities, but  through an addition to the county-wide sales tax.

The legislation would also allot 25% of the existing Sewer Taxpayer Protection Fund to upgrade septic systems.

Mr. Thiele estimated $3 to $4 billion in new local funding would be generated for water quality restoration, with 50% expanding installation of wastewater treatment systems, and 50% to replace old cesspools and septic systems with state-of-the-art nitrogen removing systems.

The new fund would also implement the Suffolk County Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan, which is already approved by the State Department of Environmental Conservation. That plan is a long-term effort addressing wastewater treatment infrastructure throughout the county over a period of 50 years. It identifies the source and concentration of nitrogen loading in 191 subwatersheds in the county, establishing nitrogen reduction levels for each.

“The Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act is the most important environmental measure to be approved for Suffolk County since the Pine Barrens Protection Act in 1993,” Mr. Thiele said. “The Pine Barrens Act protected 100,000 acres of land and protected our deepest groundwater re-charge areas.”

Nonetheless, despite the Pine Barrens Protection Act, water quality has continued to decline, the legislator added. “The Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act will complement the Pine Barrens Act by providing the resources to remediate existing wastewater treatment infrastructure to finally reverse this trend and clean up our bays, creeks and groundwater,” Mr. Thiele said.

He thanked former county executive Steve Bellone for initiating what he called a “historic proposal” and County Executive Ed Romaine, Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffery and the Suffolk Legislature for reaching a final agreement.