Upgrading from a traditional septic system to a new, high-technology waste treatment design called Nitrex, which the East Hampton Town Board heard about on Tuesday, could not only help keep nitrate levels lower in surface and groundwater, but also could benefit pre-existing, nonconforming businesses that do not meet current standards and codes, said Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson,
Mr. Wilkinson’s focus was on Lake Montauk, where, he said, samples have found human DNA, derived from waste discharge into the lake. With a highly effective waste treatment system, he said, “everybody wins.”
At the town board’s work session on Tuesday, Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper and a member of the Lake Montauk Advisory Committee, introduced Pio Lombardo of Lombardo Associates in Boston, a wastewater engineering firm that, he said, assists “unsewered communities” with wastewater management issues. The company’s specialty, he said, is “sewer avoidance” as well as “growth management.”
Faced with a decision about what to do with the town scavenger waste treatment plant, some board members have broached the idea of developing an overall wastewater management plan before making any long-term decisions about the plant, an idea Mr. Lombardo encouraged. Mr. Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley advocate accepting a private company’s purchase offer for the plant, but discussion of the various issues continues.
“I would urge you, from a procedural perspective, to think about a comprehensive plan,” Mr. Lombardo said.
His presentation, however, focused on the Nitrex system, which can be used in lieu of, or with a retrofitted, traditional septic system.
The system converts nitrogen, a product of human waste that affects aquatic ecosystems and groundwater, into nitrogen gas that is harmlessly released into the atmosphere. It averages 94 percent nitrogen removal, Mr. Lombardo said, “as good as the most sophisticated plant.”
The development of sewer systems, which collect and send septic waste to a central plant for treatment, is not feasible in most communities, Mr. Lombardo said, except perhaps in downtown areas.
“So we’re going to have to deal with our waste individually — perhaps in neighborhoods,” he said. “So let’s move away . . . and really embark on progressive treatment.”
While the cost to an average property owner who must tie into a sewer system is $50,000 to $60,000, Mr. Lombardo said, a Nitrex system can be installed for half that. About $40 a year worth of electricity is used to operate a pump that runs for about 20 minutes a day. Monitoring costs could be about $600 a year, he said.
In places throughout the country, including Woodstock, N.Y., Mr. Lombardo said, his company has helped devise wastewater management systems that may include communal treatment systems for neighborhoods or other geographic areas. A tax district can be created to pay for them, he said, with its boundaries corresponding to, perhaps, those of a particular watershed, such as Lake Montauk.
As Peconic Baykeeper, Mr. McAllister has been working to get Suffolk County to revise its standards for septic systems, and to accept alternative systems.
So far, he and Mr. Lombardo said, the County Health Department has approved Nitrex systems for restaurants or multi-family dwellings, and not for single-family residences, but will be assessing its use in that setting.
Mr. McAllister noted that municipalities may enact more stringent requirements for septic treatment than the county. Individual property owners who wish to install a system such as Nitrex right now can apply for a variance from the existing county regulations.