Guidelines Needed On Septic Upgrades

Although voters approved a referendum last year that allowed up to 20 percent of the East Hampton Town Community Preservation Fund’s annual income to be used for water quality projects, there have been few indications of how that might work in real life. Now, as the managers of the Whalebone Village affordable housing development in East Hampton have asked the town for up to $376,000 to upgrade its septic system, the lack of guidelines is apparent.

East Hampton Town already is set to begin using preservation fund money as rebates for property owners who upgrade their private septic systems; the application process has begun. Grants of up to $16,000 per property, or 100 percent of the cost of replacement, are available, depending on how close an inadequate system is to one of the bays or harbors.

Specifics about how preservation fund money could be used were vague when voters approved diverting some of it to water quality. The risk was that officials might spend it unwisely, hampering the fund’s original purpose, which was to preserve open land and historical places. 

The East Hampton Town Board should proceed very carefully. As was pointed out by Paul Giardina in his unsuccessful councilman run, other sources of funding for such undertakings may be available, if they are untested here. Moreover, very little scientific information has been presented to prove that the project proposed for Whalebone Village is actually worthwhile. Whalebone was built not all that long ago and met the environmental standards of the time. Now, its managers are telling the town that the waste systems installed to meet those standards are inadequate. Were the standards wrong or is something else at play? Either way, it needs to be cleared up. It also is important to remember that lack of guidance about how preservation funds could be used led to the biggest financial scandal in Town Hall history and the resignation of Supervisor Bill McGintee in 2009.

Whalebone Village must do more than show up at Town Hall with its hands out. At a minimum, the board needs to require impartial environmental and financial analyses before considering whether to direct so much public money its way.