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Sylvester Manor Educational Farm Introduces Innovative Clean Water System

Sydney A. Braat

Manor Executive Director Jo-Ann Robotti kicks off a roster of speakers that included Shelter Island Supervisor Jim Dougherty, NYS Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Suffolk County Deputy County Executive Peter Scully, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, NYS Attorney General's L.I. Director T.J. Hatter, EPA Chief of Watershed Management Chris Balla, Peconic Estuary Program Director Alison Branco and Sylvester Manor's planner Sara Gordon, who shepherded the project through the approvals process. (Courtesy Photo)

Friday, September 23, 2016 was an exciting day for Sylvester Manor Educational Farm in Shelter Island, as leaders from Sylvester Manor joined with local officials, community leaders and environmentalists to announce Suffolk County's first non-proprietary constructed wetland, an alternative onsite wastewater treatment system.

A press conference was held along the waterfront bordering the Manor. Speakers included Sylvester Manor Educational Farm Executive Director Jo-Ann Robotti, Shelter Island Town Supervisor James Doughtery, Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Sylvester Manor Educational Farm Planner Sara Gordon, Suffolk County Water Czar Peter Scully, Legislator Bridget Fleming, EPA Chief of Watershed Management Rick Balla, TJ Hatter of the New York State Attorney General's office, and Director of the Peconic Estuary Program Alison Branco. Following the press conference, attendees broke ground at the site of the Clean Water System.

"We have 224 acres here, and our work is to sustain this into the 21st Century," said Sylvester Manor Educational Farm's project director Sara Gordon at the event. "We are working on the lifecycle impacts of the farm. This acknowledges the issues and does something productive with the full cycle of farming."

Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Legislator Bridget Fleming, Sylvester Manor Educational Farm planner Sara Gordon and Shelter Island Supervisor Jim Dougherty break ground for the innovative Clean Water system at the historic site on Shelter Island. (Courtesy Photo)

The hope for this Clean Water System is to reduce the impacts of nitrogen which is one of the leading pollutants in our coastal waters. Towns across Long Island can directly relate to this concern. This project is an important first step for this type of technology.

"Restoration of water quality is important both to the environment of the Peconic Estuary and to the traditional industries like boating, fishing and tourism, which have sustained the economy of the East End for generations," said County Executive Steve Bellone.

The Clean Water System is partly funded by the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program and is part of the County Executive's "Reclaim Our Waters" campaign.

"The County is pleased to partner with Sylvester Manor on this unique project, which will work in harmony with nature and will help to set a new standard for innovative wastewater technology in Suffolk County," Bellone said.

"Reducing the wastewater impacts of Sylvester Manor's residential farm apprenticeship program is the first step toward the restoration of the 1737 Manor House and our exceptional local environment," explained Executive Director of the historic landmark, Jo-Ann Robotti. By providing restroom facilities for an increasing number of visitors, and for resident seasonal farm staff, the state-of-the-art vegetated system will capture and treat the effluent while aiding the short and long term preservation needs of the Manor House.

"Sylvester Manor Educational Farm is committed to being a leader in implementation of innovative practices and technologies, promoting sustainable agriculture, development and preservation," noted Gordon. "We are able to achieve this by implementing promising future-ready models while carrying forward the best of the past."

"Ineffective and outdated conventional septic systems continue to threaten the East End's fragile environment," said David Okorn, Executive Director of the Long Island Community Foundation.  "With our grant, Sylvester Manor's wetland treatment system project will be a cost-effective, replicable approach to reduce nitrogen loading in our local ground and surface waters."

The Clean Water System has resulted in a collaboration of several local organizations, such as the Group for the East End, Peconic Green Growth, the NYS Center for Clean Water Technology, and Long Island Community Foundation.

"The solution to our region's sewage pollution requires a range of wastewater treatment strategies and we believe that natural technologies like the Clean Water System make perfect sense for a variety of settings," Bob DeLuca, President of Group for the East End, said, "It's a pleasure to partner with Sylvester Manor on this project and have the opportunity to educate East Enders about the many innovative options that can play a role in restoring our local waters."

It is imperative our communities think about preserving the water quality. "Shelter Island's future welfare is totally dependent on preserving the quality of our water, both the aquifer beneath us, providing the water we depend upon, and the waters surrounding us, providing us with recreation and incomes," said Shelter Island Town Supervisor James Dougherty. "Our island septic systems need upgrading, and Sylvester Manor Educational Farm and Suffolk County are leading the way. We are all grateful."

The process is not complete, though. Sylvester Manor Educational Farm will continue reaching out to organizations and community members as time progresses. It must be a community effort!

"It requires efforts from all segments of the East End community to reduce nitrogen loading to the Peconic Estuary," explained Alison Branco, Director of the Peconic Estuary Program. "This public-private partnership between Suffolk County and Sylvester Manor Educational Farm is a great example of the creativity that is needed to accomplish the major change our region needs." 

Sylvester Manor Educational Farm's goals are plain and simple: reduce nitrogen concentrations in the facility's wastewater by up to 90 percent, foster an opportunity for ongoing outreach, education, and scientific study focused on water quality restoration.

The community as a whole is behind this effort, which will certainly aid in its success. "This is a project that makes me proud to represent our region," said Legislator Bridget Fleming. "I applaud Sylvester Manor and the County Health Department for taking a leadership role in the effort to reduce the levels of nitrogen in our waters. Innovative wastewater treatment systems such as this are critically important to the restoration and preservation of our natural resources."

There are several partners in the implantation of the Clean Water System. They include: The Suffolk County Department of Health Services, The Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, Assemblyman Fred Thiele and The New York State Community Capital Assistance Program, The Long Island Community Foundation, Group for the East End, Peconic Green Growth, The Town of Shelter Island, The New York State Center for Clean Water Technology, Natural Systems Utilities Engineering, Sherman Engineering and Consulting, Shelter Island Sand and Gravel, and Johnston and Sons Earthmoving.

Sylvester Manor Educational Farm is located at 80 North Ferry Road in Shelter Island. For more information, call 631-749-0626 or visit sylvestermanor.org.

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