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Jan 5, 2015 2:29 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Nitrex System Promises Big Results, Minimal Odor

Jan 14, 2015 2:08 PM

As they prepare to vote next week on whether to grant a zoning change that would pave the way for renovation of the Canoe Place Inn and the construction of 37 townhouses along the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays, members of the Southampton Town Board will weigh many potential impacts, but perhaps none looms larger than the development’s impact on the environment and, specifically, the health of the two nearby bays.

With rising concerns over groundwater quality, as well as the threat of nitrogen-loading in the Peconic and Shinnecock bays, cousins Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, the developers behind the proposed maritime planned development district, and their supporters are putting their faith in a technology that is still relatively new to Long Island: the Nitrex wastewater treatment system.

Engineered by Lombardo Associates in Massachusetts, the system is designed to be discreet and odorless, utilizing natural filtration methods—namely, the introduction of microbacteria—to remove nitrogen and other potentially harmful nutrients from liquid waste. The output is water that has, on average, 3.4 milligrams of nitrate per liter, well below New York State’s standard of 10 milligrams per liter, with such already-deployed systems removing about 94 percent of nitrogen from wastewater at 13 different sites in the nation, according to the company.

Essentially, the system works by creating environments conducive to growing microbacteria that, in turn, will feed off nitrates and eventually transform them into nitrogen gas, which is emitted into the air. After flowing into a septic holding tank, the remaining water is sprayed over a cloth “biofilter” to add oxygen, turning ammonia from the urine into nitrates while whatever wastewater remains is then pumped through a series of tanks containing a 40-year supply of wood chips. The bacteria consume the nitrates from the water, as well as carbon from the wood, and then “breathe out” nitrogen gas.

“This is nature—all we’re doing is putting it in a box and engineering it to minimize cost and optimize performance,” Pio Lombardo, owner of Lombardo Associates, said during an interview last month. “That’s what we do.”

The remaining wastewater then moves on to leaching pools that are similar to standard septic systems. With the Hampton Bays project, the leaching pools will be equipped to handle 11,870 gallons of water per day.

Since being approved by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services in 2011, Nitrex has earned praise from environmental scientists and some town residents alike, with some saying the wastewater filtration system should be used on both the townhouses on the eastern bank of the canal and the Canoe Place Inn property to the west, and others calling for its incorporation into other proposed developments in the town.

Currently, the plan is to install a system to offset only the wastewater generated by the 37 townhouses. Plans to restore the Canoe Place Inn call for only the installation of new standard cesspools that are designed to hold waste before slowly releasing its contents into the ground and eventually, into the groundwater. The Rechlers, however, have agreed to allow Lombardo Associates to install an underground permeable retentive barrier near the inn building to block the flow of nitrates into the canal.

Despite the enthusiasm for the new system, few East End residents have had the opportunity to see the technology in action, let alone give it a whirl. There is only one Nitrex system installed on Long Island and it’s attached to the former Scully Estate in Islip, which now houses the Suffolk County Environmental Center.

The proposed Nitrex system for Hampton Bays also has its fair share of opposition, particularly from residents who live just across North Road from the proposed townhouses, because of where the Rechlers intend to install the unit—on a nearly 2.7-acre lot in their neighborhood.

“How do they take somebody else’s waste and pump it into a totally different neighborhood?” Rita Knox, one of the neighbors opposed to the Canoe Place Inn Maritime Planned Development District, asked. “If they do it there, then what? Are they going to allow people with nice houses in Shinnecock Hills to pump their waste into Hampton Bays?

“It sets the precedent that anybody who has the money and the clout can somehow have their waste pumped elsewhere,” she continued.

Ms. Knox and her neighbors have been battling the planned development district for more than a year now, originally citing concerns about what a wastewater treatment facility would do to their property values and community aesthetics. They have also raised concerns about potential odors and an expected uptick in traffic due to the development.

A visit last month to the Scully Estate by a Press reporter confirmed the company’s claims that its Nitrex system is mostly odorless, as there was no discernible smell until one of the system’s covers—which resemble manholes from a distance—were removed. And even then, the smell was noticeable only at close range.

Proponents also point out that the system is not the eyesore that some critics are charging, pointing out that, upon approach, it closely resembles a series of manhole covers dotting the surface above the system. Mr. Lombardo insists that the system, which is normally constructed below parking lots and other paved areas, could be made to look more discreet by replacing the covers with fake grass or by installing shallow-rooted plants between the visible components.

The Scully Estate Nitrex system is located less than 300 feet from wetlands and was installed in November 2008. Unlike with the Rechlers’ proposal, the Nitrex system in Islip is located next to the building it serves instead of across the street. Most of the examples of the system included by Lombardo Associates in the project’s draft environmental impact statement show the systems in close proximity to their respective developments.

Members of Ms. Knox’s group were given a tour of the same facility several months ago, but were not impressed by what they observed. Ms. Knox, who did not attend the tour, said her neighbors pointed out the size disparity between the Islip system and the one proposed for Hampton Bays; the former handles only about 1,500 gallons of wastewater a day compared to the estimated 11,000 to 13,000 gallons per day that would be processed in Hampton Bays.

But Mr. Lombardo said the fact that the estate’s system is used almost exclusively to handle toilet waste means it has a higher concentration of nitrates compared to a residential development, like what is proposed for Hampton Bays, which would have its wastewater diluted by water from showers, sinks and laundry machines.

Glen E Harrington, director of the Board of Health for the Town of Mashpee in Massachusetts, said his municipality has had a lot of success with the Nitrex system installed with a mixed use development built there in 2006.

“I will tell you that the system has operated very well in terms of filtering nitrates,” Mr. Harrington said. “It’s consistently putting out water with 3 milligrams per liter over the past four or five years. It has operated very well.”

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Again the major points are missed by everyone.

The largest source of pollutants in the waters and water table on Long Island is from surface runoff. Nitrates from lawn fertilizers contribute to the algae blooms and in turn remove the oxygen from the waters. Fertilizers can wash as much as 60-85% of applied material downstream into the runoff., In turn this is collected in the bays. Sediment also washed in to the bays can cause problems with cloudy waters and can also reduce the oxygen ...more
By Baymen87 (135), Lugoff, SC on Jan 9, 15 8:38 AM
No one is arguing that. I miss your point.
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jan 9, 15 11:02 AM
I would like to know how some of you keep bitcn about water quality from a state of the art treatment system yet know one has the courage to confront the marinas all around the canal that pollute the water with solvents,oil, bottom paint, fiberglass and cleaners 10 months of the year!

By Undocumented Democrat (2065), southampton on Jan 9, 15 1:20 PM
Someone else's waste treatment is already going on in your back yard. Your front yard and side yard, too. And, right under your house and garden as it makes its way to the bay which can no longer be our communal waste water facility by default.
By PQ1 (167), hampton bays on Jan 9, 15 4:05 PM
Whether the population is suburban or not, high or low or not, 10 weeks of the year or 52, apparently conditions are enough to cause concerning algal blooms.
The article indicates that the system has been tested in other places.

By PQ1 (167), hampton bays on Jan 10, 15 10:13 AM
The water will be so pure that they will pipe it back in to the condos...
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Jan 9, 15 6:47 PM
1 member liked this comment
The warranty on this system is for 3 years. According to the terms of the warranty, only Nutrient Removal Technologies, Inc. aka as NRTI in Newton, MA, may maintain the system (deq.state.or.us/wq/onsite/docs/nitrexservicecontract.pdf). Is that company owned by the Nitrix patent holder in Newton, MA?
Will the Suffolk County Water Authority be allowed to monitor the maintenance of this system? Effluent ponding over the soil absorption area is one of the items to be monitored, as stated in the ...more
By QuietLife (61), Southampton on Jan 12, 15 7:01 PM