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Dirty Wastewater Might Equal Clean Cash For East End Homeowners

Pollution of both surface and groundwater by nitrogen that is released from cesspools and septic systems are impacting water quality. (Photo: Nicole Barylski)

Have you noticed the poor water quality, along with wastewater disposal issues that are affecting the East End? The towns of East Hampton and Southampton have, and along with town supervisors and village mayors from across the East End, a regional initiative to address these issues proposes a state fund to provide rebates of up to $5,000 per residence to homeowners to install hi-tech enhanced wasterwater systems on their property.

What is the actual culprit?

Pollution of both surface and groundwater by nitrogen that is released from cesspools and septic systems. New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation has developed a technology center at Stony Brook Southampton to focus on developing better septic treatment technology.

Actual Costs?

Since the newer systems can come with a price tag around $15,000 and up, homeowners might not be putting new septic systems at the top of their priority lists. Therefore, the local government feels a little help is warranted, thus a plan and appeal to state legislators evolved. At issue is the reduction of nitrogen pollution, however, this is an issue with a long history that has been part of Suffolk County's water resources plan, as well as the governor's coastal resilience and water quality task force report.

How much money is the county looking for?

The goal is a $100 million rebate program, which many hope would allow for upgrades to almost a quarter of the existing cesspools and septic systems. Each individual town would have the authority to pinpoint not only priority areas, but also who meets the eligibility requirements.

What's been done?

Suffolk County has undertaken testing of numerous next-generation alternative technology systems to add to the Health Department's list of approved systems.

What's the latest?

Suffolk County (the first in the state) enacted a new law that will allocate $2 million annually for homeowners towards subsidies for replacement of septic systems. Applications will be accepted beginning July 1 if a homeowner is interested in replacing their system with one approved by the County Department of Health. The East Hampton Town had put forth new legislation that would mandate all new commercial and residential construction and renovation projects to install the latest hi-tech, nitrogen reducing septic systems.

Additionally, the rebate program would reimburse those homeowners who do qualify (with an income under $500,000) for now 100 percent, or up to $15,000 of the cost of replacing the old systems on their property using revenue from the Community Preservation Fund, giving the Town approximately $6 million to use for water quality improvement. This would certainly apply to residents in much of the Springs area where the shallow groundwater and nearness to tidal water bodies means the nitrogen in wastewater reaches the water surface rapidly.

If you own a home that is not in a water protection district, a 50 percent rebate would be available, or up to $10,000, and if your income meets the Housing Authority's guide for affordable housing, the rebate goes up to 75 percent. For any other homeowner that wants to replace their existing septic system, the rebate is 25 percent, or up to $5,000.

Southampton Town officials are working on their own codes that would be similar to that of East Hampton.

Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.

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