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Mar 24, 2013 8:09 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Around Town Hall: Septic Rebates On Horizon; Board Reports $4 Million Surplus In 2012

Mar 27, 2013 11:10 AM

Six months after creating a Water Quality Protection Fund to subsidize projects aimed at reducing the pollution of groundwater and tidal bays, Southampton Town is poised to begin an incentive program that will tap that fund to help residents replace, upgrade or repair their aging or failing in-ground septic systems.

As proposed, the incentive program will provide grants that will cover up to 60 percent of the cost of replacing a septic system, to a maximum of $5,000, for the replacement of an old septic ring system with a newer system that reduces the amount of nitrates and bacteria that leach from the units into groundwater. The proposed program outline requires that the system to be replaced be from 1981 or earlier, when the standard septic system was to have just a septic tank buried in the ground, often sitting directly in groundwater.

Newer systems that employ multiple leaching rings or clusters of rings combined with a solid-waste storage tank, known as “shallow pool” systems, create more separation of waste from water tables, thus reducing the amount of nitrates that go unfiltered before they reach groundwater tables.

To qualify for a rebate, the proposed replacement system must demonstrate that it results in lower nitrate levels reaching the groundwater, as determined by the Suffolk County Department of Health.

Town officials are banking that the potential savings of several thousand dollars may be enough to spur some homeowners to accept the costs of upgrading their system, a proposal that, under normal circumstances, could easily run between $5,000 and $10,000.

“We’re trying to get those people who would love to upgrade, but are finding it a little hard to swallow,” said Councilwoman Christine Scalera, who sponsored the Water Quality Protection Fund and the incentive program bill.

The board harked back to the town’s hugely popular oil tank replacement incentive, which offered $500 toward the cost of removing or replacing in-ground heating oil tanks. That program helped spur the replacement of hundreds of leaking oil tanks throughout the town.

Installing a new standard septic tank system, with one to three leaching pools, costs about $5,000. Installing a more elaborate alternative system with steel holding tanks—which are required where water tables are too shallow to allow for standard septic tanks that are between five and 12 feet tall—can cost as much as $10,000.

“This was always one of the goals of the Water Quality Protection Fund,” Ms. Scalera, who sponsored both programs, said Tuesday night during a public hearing on the rebate program. “While this contemplates a budget appropriation, in terms of surplus, other sources are being looked at ... including land use approvals.”

The septic rebate program and water protection fund give the Town Board an avenue to direct surplus funds—the town realized a $4 million surplus in 2012—to the rebate program, as well as make contributions to the fund eligible for “community benefit” considerations in development projects. Early next month the town will use some $200,000 contributed to the fund by a Water Mill homeowner in exchange for being granted permission to make alterations to the shoreline of his Mecox Bay property.

Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst suggested that the program should perhaps give priority to houses that are in regions where the potential for negative impacts from ineffective septic systems are most serious, such as in neighborhoods close to tidal wetlands and bays, or in places where water tables are very close to the surface. The board agreed to allow homeowners in groundwater protection overlay districts, or within 200 feet of ponds or tidal waters, to receive rebates of up to 60 percent of the replacement costs.

Board members said the program is sorely needed and a good first step toward addressing some of the water quality issues in local bays, western Shinnecock Bay in particular. But they also lamented that even more stringent reductions in pollutants could not be required because Suffolk County has not yet approved the most modern treatment systems for use on single-family homes.

“The current standards—I think everyone agrees—are not good enough and we’re hoping higher standards are going to be put into place,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “But could we not require a higher standard in order to qualify for [the town subsidy]? Could we not say, ‘The current standards are failing us, that’s why our waters look the way they do?’”

Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins said that because the county has yet to approve the systems, any higher standards would be impossible to meet. He noted that more modern systems that can reduce nitrate levels by large margins are also still too expensive for most homeowners.

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And how much does a replacement system cost?
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Mar 24, 13 9:56 AM
Town Hall has its priorities backwards. It needs to be cleaning up our police department before our septic systems. If it can't do the job, or won't: Vote the Board out!
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Mar 24, 13 7:52 PM
2 members liked this comment
I owe you a beer
By 5-0 (44), Montauk Point on Mar 25, 13 8:52 AM
This town board is more concerned about improved septic systems because they know that their careers will soon be in the toilet.
By Geppetto (59), Southampton on Mar 24, 13 10:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
Yup, flushable!
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 25, 13 7:11 AM
1 member liked this comment
Sorry for not knowing this, but is the funding through a grant or is this 5k only town tax dollars being spent to found other peoples projects? If you just wait the owner will do a renovation, addition or new house on the property and the health department will tell them "its time to upgrade" anyway and at owners expense. Or like the oil tanks that you stated. The insurance companies came in right after the program and said replace that underground tank or loss coverage, also at owners expense. ...more
By Common Scense (24), Southampton on Mar 25, 13 9:33 AM
1 member liked this comment
No guarantees, another governmental debacle. Here's the link to the resolution. Just more money for the Town of Southampton to collect and give out how they please. When, exactly, does the government stop taking my money?

By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Mar 25, 13 2:07 PM
Is it true that owners of local septic businesses who stand to make a lot of cash from this proposal were involved in creating the legislation?
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Mar 25, 13 9:38 AM
Don't know progressnow, have anything to back that up. Wouldn't be the first time legislation was written by someone who would benefit from it. Happens at the county state and federal level all the time.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Mar 25, 13 9:54 AM
I don't, only heard some talk which is why I ask the question and why I did not mention any specific names.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Mar 25, 13 11:27 AM
I think progress is correct. If you look at the Town Board's Website, under Advisory Boards and Solid Waste Advisory Committee you will find this name:

Emil "Skip" Norsic

I have been told that his person worked on the legislation with Ms. Scalera. Hmmm, wonder if this legislation would in any way benefit the Norsic company.
By witch hazel (224), tatooine on Mar 26, 13 3:01 PM
Its not just a Southamptown Town issue and should involve county, state and perhaps even federal support. Its like sticking a finger in the dike and having the all the water just flow over the top!

Where is the funding for this rebate program coming from? As stated above Peter is being taxed to pay for Paul's home improvement? Likewise, should the program not be a bit more focused in terms of priority areas, such as close to the Bays and water front.

I disagree with McAllister's ...more
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Mar 25, 13 10:21 AM
Could the Town require inspection and system upgrades where appropriate on waterfront homes as they are sold?
Waterfront homeowners should not need a subsidy as they undoubtedly have resources enabling them to buy such a home. The justification would be these waterfront homes have most impact. Things get more purified as they work way to local waters. Waterfront homes don't have the distance for purification that homes mile away would. At least I think I am correct here.
By baywoman (165), southampton on Mar 25, 13 1:46 PM
There is only one solution to the degradation of our bays and ponds, a sewer system that returns only treated effluent to a distant ocean outflow. We will continue to see discussion of the lesser expensive and futile treatment options put forward in this article, but nothing will actually be done until the bays and ponds begin to die and stink. At that point, the only feasible solution will be accepted and a sewage system will be installed with massive aid from the federal and state governments. ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Mar 25, 13 2:04 PM
Sewer system's not a good solution - except for developers. The moment one went in, a flock of lawyers and paid "experts" would swoop in arguing for permission to build on hitherto unbuildable wetlands, undersized lots and in sensitive areas that can not handle septic systems. Why do you think the village of southampton keeps hopefully bringing up the idea - it's boards are peppered with people who make their livings one way or another through the real estate and building industry. They'd like nothing ...more
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Mar 26, 13 8:27 PM
"I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Mar 26, 13 8:32 PM
to goldernrod:

We are already so closely packed that the land can't sustain our presence WITHOUT a sewer system.

Wetlands are protected for the sake of flora and fauna and zoning limitations are imposed for the sake of density, use, and aesthetics - neither is a reaction to sanitary concerns (or at least, not exclusively so.) Installation of a sewer system wouldn't affect either classification system.

Moreover, if there are lots that conform with zoning restrictions ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Mar 27, 13 1:18 AM
Yup just what we need on the East End a Sewer System.Those of us of a who remember....... Suffolk's Southwest Sewer District, born in scandal and mired by delays and cost overruns, was a $1-billion municipal mess, second only to the Shoreham Nuclear power plant which cost us about 6 billion...So let us not forget what can happen when well intentioned people decide to ugrade our infastructure...
By DJ9222 (85), southampton on Apr 2, 13 11:25 PM
Town prob give you $5K then charge you $6K for permit to do upgrade
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Mar 25, 13 4:45 PM
And raise your property taxes!
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 25, 13 6:12 PM
Where is Heaney mentioned?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Mar 27, 13 12:21 AM
"The answer my friend is blowin' in the (fair) wind?"

Interesting that Linda Kabot has just announced her intent to run in a primary election. [also blowin' in the wind]
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 27, 13 6:20 AM
That info is missing from the story, not knowing what you know, your comment confuses a reader.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Mar 27, 13 11:10 AM