Massive Water Plan Sidesteps Priorities

Yet another wastewater plan arrives, and again we find ourselves scratching our heads. This time a Massachusetts consultant has produced a set of recommendations for East Hampton Village intended to improve Hook and Town Ponds. These include sewage treatment projects for 87 watershed properties around Egypt Lane and North Main Street, an in-ground filter near the Nature Trail, and perhaps most visually notable, the creation of a million-dollar wetland on the grassy triangle near where Main Street, Woods Lane, and Ocean Avenue come together.

In all, the project might take three years to complete and cost $7.3 million. Money might come from additional taxes on some or all village properties or, as the consultant not so surprisingly urged, from tapping the community preservation fund. “A huge opportunity for community preservation,” was how Pio Lombardo of Lombardo Consultants put the prospect. But it could also represent a huge gravy train for his business, which, as its website boasts, can supply “turnkey services of designing, building, owning/financing, and operating wastewater and water facilities.”

Our skepticism about Mr. Lombardo’s work should not be interpreted as opposition to water improvements over all, or to wetlands for that matter. Far from it. What we do find fault with is his apparent predilection for a project in relatively rich East Hampton Village and another, in downtown Montauk, where a similar funding strategy was discussed.

In Montauk, as with the Hook and Town Ponds proposals, the environmental benefits of these massive undertakings are clear, but not necessarily of the highest necessity. Nowhere in either plan was there a sense that drinking water supplies would be protected or that important shellfishing areas restored. The town’s baymen might think that Georgica Pond’s crab and white perch fisheries should be considered a priority. A clam digger might say the south end of Accabonac Harbor or the perpetually befouled portions of Lake Montauk deserve help. Springs residents might ask about what comes out of their wells. And unlike Hook Pond, Georgica is an active recreational waterway.

Close watchers of government have seen this kind of thing before: A consultant waves around sheaves of apparently scientific reports and expects elected officials to just go along. Not so fast, we say. East Hampton Village and the town as a whole cannot expect to tackle the many water problems simultaneously. Instead of the work’s following the money, the environmental community and public health experts should take the lead, establishing the goals and setting priorities, then asking Mr. Lombardo or someone else to come up with a serious plan to meet them.

There is nothing wrong with East Hampton Village opting some day to save Town Pond. There just may be far more important problems to solve first.