The future of East Hampton Town’s scavenger waste plant, a fractious issue since a three-member town board majority voted earlier this year to oppose the prior board’s decision to seek proposals from companies to lease or buy it, prompted an emotionally charged conversation at a board meeting on Tuesday. The future of the plant has aligned Councilman Dominick Stanzione, a Republican, with the two Democratic members of the board.
The 2012 budget prepared by Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, based on the assumption that the plant would be immediately transferred, did not contain money to operate it beyond the first part of the year, nor did it include money to make needed repairs. With the sale stymied, the budget is now facing an estimated $400,000 shortfall this year.
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley joined Mr. Wilkinson in pointing the finger at the three other members of the board, saying they were responsible for cost overruns. According to Arthur Malman, speaking on behalf of the town’s budget and finance advisory committee, the plant, which is now being operated only as a transfer station, is costing the town $30,000 a month. The committee has recommended that it be shut down “as quickly as possible — within 30 days,” albeit temporarily. It was noted that only one local septic waste carter has been depositing waste at the plant; others are trucking it out of town.
Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson pointed out Tuesday, as they have before, that the prior board, before Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc took office, had agreed in a unanimous, bipartisan vote to seek the requests for proposals from companies interested in taking the plant. Only one company responded.
“You bear the burden of the budget being broken,” Ms. Quigley said to her colleagues. Ms. Quigley acknowledged that Mr. Stanzione and Ms. Overby, who organized a forum in April at which various experts addressed aspects of wastewater treatment plant, wanted to research all of the issues and options before setting a course for the future of the plant. But, Ms. Quigley said, “I am concerned that that decision to do more due diligence was made back in February, and it’s now August. I’m worried that as a town we are sort of in a state of non-action that’s going to continue.”
Ms. Quigley, who has often said that, after doing her own due diligence, she had arrived at the choice of selling the plant, reiterated that, regardless of the failed vote to do so, she would not reconsider. “I’m not going to take a position on your . . . whatever it is,” she said Tuesday. “Because I’ve already made my decision. I made it a year ago.” Mr. Wilkinson has also refused to waver from his position that the plant should be sold.
At one point, the discussion grew heated. “Theresa, you’re hysterical at one end of this, without listening to any possible solutions,” Ms. Overby said. “We need to have a discussion without the hysterics.”
Mr. Wilkinson asked Ms. Overby repeatedly at the meeting to state how much the waste plant would cost the town this year — money that was not budgeted. “What is the forecast number against the operating budget?” he asked again and again. The $400,000 estimate was provided, Ms. Overby said, some weeks ago by Len Bernard, the town budget officer.
“It just keeps taking money after money after money,” Ms. Quigley said of the plant. “We’re digging into surplus.”
“There were costs that should have been anticipated, and weren’t budgeted for,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. For instance, Ms. Overby said, pursuant to notices of environmental violations received in 2010 and 2011 from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the town must enact a corrective action plan, which includes cleaning tanks at the plant at a cost of more than $200,000.
“This is like a black hole; it just keeps taking money. Is there a big plan?” Ms. Quigley asked.
“Yes, there is a big plan. That was sent to you many weeks ago,” Ms. Overby replied. After the April forum, she said, information provided by the participants, which included Kevin Phillips, a hydrologist from FPM Group Engineering and Environmental Science, and a representative of a septic system design firm, was compiled and distributed. “They all gave us recommendations,” Ms. Overby said, “and they need to be brought forward, and the town needs to look at them.”
In addition, Ms. Overby said, about a month ago a draft “request for qualifications” — a precursor to issuing a request for proposals — was distributed to board members. It would be intended to identify consultants that could help the town prepare a comprehensive wastewater management plan.
Mr. Stanzione has joined Ms. Overby and Mr. Van Scoyoc in saying that a big-picture look at all of the issues is needed in order to make an informed decision about the treatment plant.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said the town has gained some insight by keeping the plant open as a transfer station over the summer. But Ms. Quigley suggested, based on something that she said “I happen to have heard from somebody who heard from somebody, that people are doing illegal things,” such as transferring waste from one truck to another, which is prohibited, or even dumping waste illegally. Ms. Overby asked for the specifics, but Ms. Quigley did not elaborate.