Test Nearby Wells Before You Sell

The town should review potential environmental impacts before deciding how to proceed

    East Hampton’s scavenger waste treatment plant, which is next to the former landfill, now a recycling center, on Springs-Fireplace Road, is in a “unique location” above a groundwater divide, Kevin Phillips said on Saturday at a Town Hall forum held to discuss the plant and the handling of septic waste. “Theoretically, the water that leaches through the landfill goes straight down into the aquifer,” he said.
    According to a model of groundwater flow created in 2003, underground flow on the north side of the divide heads toward and empties into Three Mile Harbor, and on the south side, to the ocean.
    Mr. Phillips, a principal with the FPM Group, an engineering and environmental science group that has monitored groundwater for the town, and other speakers at the forum said the town should review potential environmental impacts before deciding how to proceed with the aging plant. Now being used as a transfer station only, with waste shipped elsewhere for treatment, the plant is in need of repair, and the town board must make some decisions after having split 3-2 on a proposal, advanced by Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, to accept a $300,000 offer from a private company and sell it.
    Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman Dominick Stanzione agreed to arrange Saturday’s forum in order to gather more facts. Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Quigley have maintained that no further research is needed, and continue to recommend privatization.
    The forum was the second roundtable discussion of the issue in recent weeks; the Group for Good Government held one last month.
    The existing monitoring wells around the landfill and waste plant are inadequate to determine what environmental impacts there might be, speakers said.
    “You should have a live, comprehensive groundwater-monitoring system,” said Pio Lombardo of Lombardo Associates in Boston, a wastewater and water management engineering company. “These things should be ongoing all the time — that’s what’s missing.”
    Water samples from wells around the site have been tested only for nitrogen and total dissolved solids, Mr. Phillips said. “That’s probably inadequate for this plant. The State Department of Environmental Conservation has cited the town for emissions from the plant,” which, he said, have included mercury, “which is a very significant concern.”
    “You can’t tell whether this plant has had an impact unless you put in a number of additional wells,” he said. “There may be other things besides mercury that have kind of slipped through, and that really should be investigated, as far as the impact of the scavenger waste treatment plant on the aquifer. And that’s our recommendation,” Mr. Phillips said.
    He also had some good news about an underground plume of volatile organic chemicals that emanated from the former landfill, which is now capped. His company has been monitoring the plume for a number of years. Tests last year, he said, show that it is shrinking. “Something happened to the mass. And that’s a very good thing,” Mr. Phillips said. The leading edge of the plume, which extended north of the landfill under an adjacent golf course but did not go beyond Abraham’s Path, has not advanced, he said.
    However, liquid discharge into the ground from the scavenger waste plant, Mr. Phillips said, has created an underground plume of total dissolved solids, which are salts. That in itself is not a major concern, though “you do have groundwater standards being violated,” he said, but whether there are other elements or plumes cannot be determined from the existing test wells.
    Arthur Malman, who helped prepare a report on the waste plant as a member of the town’s budget and finance advisory committee, said that the county health department, after looking at existing test well data, had also recommended testing for other pollutants.
    Long-range planning and a comprehensive strategy for handling the community’s septic waste was also discussed at the forum. Mr. Lombardo, whose company has produced handbooks for municipalities on the subject, said issues such as emergency-versus-maintenance  septic system pumping, and whether or not to commingle wastewater and “septage” (the solid sludge that is removed from septic systems) should be discussed.
    Septic system upkeep, including regular maintenance pumpouts, is key to avoiding nitrate pollution in ground and surface waters, and to efficient operation of a treatment plant, Mr. Lombardo said, adding that “the privatization option needs detailed measures to protect the town.”
    Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper, who was in the audience, warned that sea-level rise should also be considered. As coastal waters rise, septic systems in low-lying areas are impacted, he said, resulting in pollutants entering the water.
    Mark Wagner of Cameron Engineering, a consultant to the town on the operation of the scavenger waste plant, said that “if the town is not going to operate the plant, then you have to consider what options there are.” Other Long Island treatment plants, such as Bergen Point in Babylon, and Riverhead’s, do not have a “tremendous amount of excess capacity for scavenger waste,” he said.
    The immediate plan, he said, is for East Hampton to spend about $200,000 for improvements at its plant, and then obtain permission from the D.E.C. to resume treating waste there, at up to 45,000 gallons a day.