Wastewater Problems at Montauk Shores

The path forward for owners at the Montauk Shores Condominium at Ditch Plain, better known as the Trailer Park, got clouded recently when East Hampton Town took a hard line on wastewater there. The problems underscore a growing belief that our current environmental laws are inadequate and, in some cases, have not been enforced or were ignored with impunity for a long time.

Septic systems have been in the news. East Hampton Town and Suffolk County officials are doing all they can to push nitrogen-reducing technology. And East Hampton voters last fall okayed tapping the community preservation fund for up to 20 percent of the annual tax on real estate sales for mostly unspecified water protection efforts. There also has been talk about improving the Springs School District’s inadequate waste system — and even whether the preservation fund could be put to use there. 

At Montauk Shores, the pressure is on to do something fast. According to the Planning Department, the present septic system there can handle about 26,500 gallons of wastewater a day, while the peak flow from the existing housing might exceed 43,000 gallons a day. At a recent zoning board of appeals meeting no one said exactly where that excess goes, but the implication is that it can’t be good. 

Anecdotally, surfers who frequent the popular Trailer Park break in front of Montauk Shores talk about ear infections and other curious maladies after being in the water there during the height of the summer. This may not be related to the condominium’s inadequate waste system, as the groundwater is thought to flow roughly north, toward Lake Montauk, and not into the ocean. It is perhaps not coincidental that nearby South Lake, once a popular bathing beach for families with small children, has been closed to swimming over bacteria concerns for years.

At a June 27 hearing, the zoning board told a man seeking to remove his Montauk Shores trailer and replace it with a significantly larger unit that he would have to wait until the park replaced its septic system. This news may bring action in the newly boho-chic neighborhood to a crashing halt. It also serves as a reminder that it and many other densely developed properties in Montauk are an invisible environmental threat. Much credit is due to the Planning Department and zoning board for finally bringing this underground crisis to light.