East Hampton’s representatives in the State and County Legislatures came out this week in support of creating a town comprehensive wastewater management strategy and plan, an initiative that has drawn strong opposition from East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley.
Over their objections, the majority of the board voted last month to hire a consortium of professional engineers, scientists, and consultants to undertake a study of the issues and draft a plan. Lombardo Associates of Massachusetts, the FPM Group of Ronkonkoma, the Woods Hole Group, and Christopher Gobler, a Stony Brook Southampton professor, will work together to develop a plan for dealing with wastewater that addresses both environmental protection and regulatory mandates. They will try to answer the question of what to do about the town’s aging scavenger waste treatment plant, which is currently nonfunctional and operating only as a waste transfer station, and craft a ground and surface water monitoring program.
However, the three-member board majority was unable to secure the majority-plus-one votes needed to include the project in the town’s capital budget or to issue a bond to raise the money for it. Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson have called hiring the professionals a waste of money and have instead advocated handing the scavenger waste plant over to a private operator. Ms. Quigley has said that she fears that a proposed aspect of the plan — to assess the functioning of individual septic systems throughout the town by distributing a questionnaire, and developing an incentive or other program that would lead to private septic upgrades — would result in visits to residents by the “septic police.”
In a letter sent Monday to the East Hampton Town Board, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, and County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, a former town supervisor, offered their “strong support” for the “environmentally significant study,” which they said could “prove to be cost-effective for the town.”
With a need for “clean, productive groundwater and surface waters” in East Hampton and on the entire East End, the legislators wrote, “identifying, monitoring, and remediating sources of water pollution should be of utmost importance to the town.”
“Developing a comprehensive wastewater management strategy and plan will put East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village on the right track to assess the purpose and ownership of an aging scavenger waste facility, better understand the impact of septic systems on the town’s vulnerable and sensitive water resources, as well as establish scientific systems for monitoring the quality of these invaluable assets,” the letter states.
“These are clearly significant advances in environmental management,” the three added. The letter ends by urging the town board to “advance this study by providing the funding it deserves.”
Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, a supporter of the long-range planning strategy, along with Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman Dominick Stanzione, read the letter aloud at a board work session on Tuesday. Neither Mr. Wilkinson nor Ms. Quigley was in attendance.
Ms. Quigley voted on April 4 against accepting the consultants’ proposal, but the resolution passed, with three assenting votes; Mr. Wilkinson was absent from that vote. However, on April 18, both voted against issuing a bond to pay for the work, which is expected to cost $197,989. A supermajority of the board (or four members) must approve bond issues, so that measure failed.
The question of how the work will be funded has not been resolved. However, the April 4 resolution notes that the consultants would be paid “from the appropriate operating, surplus, or reserve accounts should funding not be approved as a capital item in the 2013 capital budget.”
In an e-mail on Tuesday, Councilman Stanzione wrote that “this powerful endorsement of my proposal for a comprehensive wastewater study comes from our most esteemed elected environmental leaders, Senator LaValle, Assemblyman Thiele, and Legislator Schneiderman — stalwarts of progressive environmental leadership. Wow! I’m humbled and grateful because their strong support comes at a pivotal moment. It puts a very bright exclamation point on the public conversation about the merits of the proposal. It’s time to fund the study.”