It is quite the wonder why two members of the last East Hampton Town Board were so vehemently opposed to an independent study of the unused Springs-Fireplace Road wastewater treatment plant now that a report on what should happen there has been released. As it turns out, their pet project to privatize the site would not only have cost the town a great deal of money, but would have contributed to groundwater contamination rather than alleviated it.
Former East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley had tried and failed to push through a deal in which the town would have paid for expensive repairs plus a monthly fee in an unusual lease-to-buy handoff of the plant to a private firm. To make the figures work, the company would have accepted out-of-town sewage in addition to local waste.
At the time, other board members cautioned that the whole wastewater picture needed to be reviewed before a decision was made. They stopped the proposed deal, and Mr. Wilkinson, who was ready to sign it at a February 2012 meeting, was livid.
Now, the authors of the report say the best bet would be for the town to permanently close the plant, which has been operating as a money-losing transfer station, and put the savings of up to $50,000 a month toward more ecologically and financially sound projects. This is good advice, and confirms observations made by the town budget advisory committee, environmentalists, and others that the supervisor and Ms. Quigley should have better understood what was a stake before attempting to rush into a disasterous contract.
The report contains several options for the road ahead, but the one that appears to have the most support is shutting the plant altogether. Rebuilding it could run $5 million or more, and annual operating costs could exceed $1 million. Instead, the report says, money might be directed to the doing something about the unknown number of under-performing individual septic systems in town.
Prior efforts at providing incentives for upgrading residential cesspools, for example, have been under-funded and of limited effectiveness. Incentives are well worth considering, as upgrades would both save money and help protect drinking water and the environment.