Future of Waste Plant in Balance

    The future of East Hampton Town’s scavenger waste treatment plant — specifically whether to temporarily close the facility — will be the subject of a town board hearing next Thursday night at 7 at Town Hall.
    For the last several months, the plant operated solely as a waste transfer station, with on-site waste treatment suspended.
    The town-appointed budget and finance advisory committee has been studying the waste plant for about a year and a half, and, after issuing an initial report with recommendations in March 2011, recently submitted an updated report to the town board. Among the new recommendations, the committee advised the town to close the transfer station by Labor Day, which would save $30,000 a month in operating costs for the remainder of the year. The treatment plant was shut down following citations from the State Department of Environmental Conservation for environmental violations, and is in need of cleaning and rehabilitation before it can be used again.
    While three board members — Councilmen Dominick Stanzione and Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby — have agreed with the recommendation to suspend accepting waste for transfer elsewhere, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley did not, and suggested that before making a decision the board seek public input.
    The committee also recommended in its report that the town begin drafting a long-term wastewater management plan this fall. In a 3-to-2 vote, with Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Quigley against the idea, the board voted earlier this month to solicit proposals from consultants who could help prepare such a plan.
    In its recent report, the committee reiterated its primary recommendation from last year — that before proceeding with any plans for the plant, the town complete an environmental study, establishing a baseline of environmental conditions, including any possible contamination surrounding the plant, and an examination of the potential future effects of its continued operation.
    The committee said that town officials should “revisit privatization or other disposition of the plant only after an environmental assessment and a town-wide waste management plan have been completed.”
    “Consultants to the town have stated there is a plume under the scavenger waste plant,” the committee’s report says. “When you pump tens of thousands of gallons a day of plant effluent into the ground for 30 years, a plume is created. There are actually two separate plumes at the town’s Springs-Fireplace complex. The scavenger waste plant has had no thorough studies done as to the impact of its effluent on the groundwater since its installation over 30 years ago.”
    “Before any third-party agreement for the plant is finalized, the town should conduct a study to evaluate the environmental impact of continuing to operate a plant of this age and older design at its present inland location for an extended period of time,” the report states.
    The committee believes that privatization of the plant “could be a viable alternative if there was a baseline environmental study and limits imposed by the town to protect itself from environmental concerns.” However, the committee wrote, “the town’s environmental concerns (water and odor) might be at a level higher than those sought by a for-profit operator who might seek authority from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to expand throughput from historical levels and/or to reduce some effluent testing requirements.”
    The terms offered by the one company that responded early this year to a request for proposals to take over the plant were not acceptable to the majority of the board, though Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson wanted to proceed. The specifics of an agreement could have been negotiated, Ms. Quigley said. The budget and finance committee has advised seeking a revised and final offer from the company.
    The recommendations of the committee were based on extensive research and consultation with a list of professionals cited in the report. The more than two dozen sources include the County Health Department, hydrologists and engineers, the National Academy of Sciences, aquatic scientists, waste management specialists, environmental groups, septic waste carters, and operators of waste treatment plants, among others.