Get Serious On Septic Waste

The waste plant has been a headache for a long time

   In an important and well-researched report, the East Hampton Town Budget and Financial Advisory Committee has recommended closing the town waste-treatment plant on Springs-Fireplace Road immediately while a long-term management plan is drafted. This is sound advice, and the East Hampton Town Board should act on it without delay.
    Key among the committee’s points is that the town must retain control over the plant if it is reopened, whether to be run by a private company or as a public facility. This would help assure compliance with state regulations about effluent as well as provide a measure of what is politely called “odor management.”
    The waste plant has been a headache for a long time. Last year, the town was hit with a series of state citations about groundwater contamination. Following the notices, the town closed the plant and prepared a corrective plan, which the state accepted. Since then it has functioned only as a transfer point where local sewage haulers may dump their loads, with the waste then taken by large tanker trucks for disposal UpIsland.
    Because it was not designed as a transfer site, the state limited the sewage that can be dumped there to about 10,000 gallons a day, a fraction of the 80,000 gallons or more per day collected here during the summer. As it turned out, only one local hauler is using the plant; the others made arrangements elsewhere.
    At about the same time, Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, backed by Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, pushed for selling the plant to the one firm that submitted two offers, albeit at rock-bottom terms, for its purchase. Others on the board balked and demanded a comprehensive study before any sale or other solution was seriously contemplated. Whether the town sells the plant or not, it appears to be responsible for the cost of cleaning it up.
    In the committee’s estimation, closing the plant  would save the roughly $30,000 a month it now costs taxpayers as a transfer station. We can think of no other local industry or business with so generous a public subsidy, and there should be no argument for putting a stop to it. No decisions about the plant’s future should be made, the committee said, until the wastewater plan is completed.
    A central consideration in such a study is the unknown proportion of the town’s roughly 20,000 septic systems that could be failing — and what to do about them. A comprehensive approach could minimize negative environmental impacts at their sources, the members concluded, and perhaps decrease the plant’s needed capacity, leading to cost savings. Half-measures, such as a quick sale of the plant, or continuing to keep it open for a single user, are not a solution. The waste plant is not going to up and evaporate on its own.