Suffolk lawmakers back high-tech septic systems for most new homes

Suffolk County’s Legislature unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday mandating high-tech sewage treatment in most new homes and commercial properties to improve water quality.

Legislation, which will come into force in July, aims to reduce nitrogen pollution, which official sources say has caused harmful algal blooms in local waters.

“Today’s unanimous legislative vote is the result of a historic collaboration, a victory for improved water quality and a significant advance in our ongoing efforts to ensure future generations enjoy the bays, harbors and beaches that make Suffolk County special . ” Steve Bellone, Suffolk County’s executive, said in a statement.

The measure, stalled last month over Republican concerns over homeowner costs, was passed on Tuesday after it was amended to reduce home renovations.

The systems cost about $ 20,000 to install – about double the cost of a traditional sewer system. Some residents report costs of up to $ 40,000. The measure proposed by Bellone’s office does not include funding to offset the costs.

The measure initially required the installation of the innovative wastewater treatment systems on site as part of renovation works that increase the number of bedrooms in a house.

The amended bill only requires them for projects that create more than five bedrooms and increase the floor space or floor space of the building.

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Legislation has also been changed to exempt the construction of houses in sewer districts as residents have concerns about spending thousands of dollars on high-tech sewer systems that could be out of date once sewer plugs become available.

Christopher Gobler, a professor of marine and atmospheric sciences at Stony Brook University who has led research on nitrogen pollution on Long Island, praised the compromises and said he expected the bill to become a “landmark” for the county.

“The change is both a very serious step in terms of protecting our environment and taking into account the economic situation for working families in Suffolk County,” said Gobler.

Critics of the law said it overestimated the county’s nitrogen problem, arguing that county officials had failed to prove the systems were effective.

Others expressed concern that the measure will be too costly for homeowners looking to build modest homes.

Lou Gallo, who is helping expedite building permits for homeowners, urged the county lawmakers “to find a way to mitigate the financial impact on average citizens looking to do something to improve their lives”.

Bellone’s proposal is the first step in a $ 4 billion underwater drainage plan to remove aging treatment plants and septic tanks and replace them with high-tech treatment plants and sewer connections over a 50-year period .

It comes five years after Democrat Bellone declared nitrogen pollution “public water enemy number 1” for causing algal blooms that can affect waterway ecosystems.

The cities of Brookhaven, East Hampton, Shelter Island and Southampton already need low-nitrogen sewage treatment plants for some new buildings, as do Rhode Island, Maryland and Massachusetts.

More than 1,000 such systems have been installed in Suffolk. Homeowners have received state, regional, and city grants to replace existing sewage treatment plants. This process costs about $ 25,000 on average.

But homeowners will likely have to install the new systems at their own expense under the new law, which doesn’t create a similar grant program. It costs about $ 300 a year to maintain the systems and it can also add to your electricity bills.

Suffolk officials are still checking that the high tech systems meet certification standards over two years.

The high-tech systems emit around a third of the nitrogen from conventional septic tanks.

Only about 25% of the district has sewers. According to official information, around 380,000 households and companies use cesspools or outdated sewage treatment plants.

On Tuesday the legislature also:

  • Chosen to allow county employees to work from home in emergencies, provided their job function is not compromised. Sponsor Legis. Bridget Fleming said she wants to give employees more flexibility in managing childcare during a pandemic. You will also explore how employees can create more flexible schedules.
  • Establish a task force to study the impact of the coronavirus on the county and propose recommendations to mitigate this impact.

Rachelle Blidner covers the government, politics and breaking news in Suffolk County.

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