The Town of East Hampton’s sewage treatment plant, even back when it was operational, is hardly the sole — or even most important — source of groundwater pollution here. That distinction falls on the town’s roughly 20,000 private cesspools or septic systems. The Springs-Fireplace Road plant, however, is highly visible and has become a pawn in an ongoing political battle over property taxes.
By a divided vote earlier this year, the East Hampton Town Board agreed to pay for a long-term wastewater management plan. Each of the four companies vying to do the study said that no matter what happens to the now mothballed plant, the town will continue to be plagued by septic waste. The East Hampton Budget and Finance Committee, which has reviewed the firms’ proposals, concurs.
Getting a clear idea of the actual number and quality of these many, many private systems, many of which probably are not shown on property surveys, will be a gigantic task, but one that must be completed before a long-term decision can be made about how to minimize the environmental and health risks. This will cost money — lots of it — whether or not the treatment plant is ever put back in working order. Knowing the enemy — decentralized sources of water pollution — is the central challenge to finding a way to defeat it.