Waste Plant a ‘Black Hole’

       East Hampton Town’s 30-year-old scavenger waste plant, offline since 2012, is of little value to the town, according to a report by Lombardo Associates, consulting engineers who have completed an in-depth evaluation of the facility and its operations.

       Because of aging equipment that could no longer be operated without substantial repair, the plant on Springs-Fireplace Road in East Hampton has functioned over the past two years solely as a transfer station, where local septic waste pumping companies can transfer collected waste into holding tanks rather than driving it to facilities in Riverhead or West Babylon for processing.

       Closing the transfer station, Pio Lombardo of Lombardo Associates told the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday, could save the town $40,000 to $50,000 a month.

       Local carters, he said, could bring the waste they have collected to the other sites, which have ample capacity. Even factoring in transportation costs, because the other facilities charge less per gallon to dump, the cost to the carters would remain the same, Mr. Lombardo said. Because East Hampton can only accept up to 10,000 gallons a day, many are already heading upIsland, he said.

       East Hampton’s facility is “not really competitive in the marketplace,” he said, and would need an annual subsidy of about $500,000 in town tax dollars to become so and continue to be used by carters.

       In 2012, the cost to run the transfer station, he said, was 34 cents per gallon of waste dealt with, while the income was 16 cents per gallon. “So you can see there’s a huge loss,” Mr. Lombardo told the board. “As a transfer station, there’s just no way that that could be financially sustaining.”

       Should the town wish to keep the transfer station open, he said, $18,000 a month could be saved by making simple changes and eliminating wasteful practices. For instance, he said, scavenger waste and groundwater testing has continued, at a cost of $4,000 a month, although it is no longer required by the State Department of Environmental Conservation because waste treatment at the plant was suspended.

       By reducing operations at the transfer site to four hours a day, Mr. Lombardo said, the town could save $8,000 a month.

       But, Mr. Lombardo told the town board, “We frankly see no value in the facility being operational at all. There’s no compelling financial reason to do anything with an East Hampton scavenger waste facility.” 

       Rebuilding the treatment plant, Mr. Lombardo said, could cost more than $5 million initially, with annual operating and maintenance costs another $1 million or more. Emerging technologies could provide more “green” options for the future, he said.

       The location of the wastewater plant is also a concern. “That site is a very sensitive environmental location,” Mr. Lombardo said, atop a groundwater divide. “Anything discharged goes directly, vertically into groundwater, and remains there for decades,” he said. “So any contamination in that area tends to stay in the water for a long time.” The site also includes the former town dump, now a recycling center, where water contamination has taken place. Monitoring wells surrounding the wastewater plant have shown little contamination, Mr. Lombardo said.

       The consultants looked at other possible sites for an East Hampton treatment plant, Mr. Lombardo said, but could find no viable alternatives.

       To ensure that waste from East Hampton would continue to be accepted at the other plants, the town could enter into an agreement with them to “buy capacity,” paying for the ability to dispose of a certain amount of waste.

       An analysis of the wastes being disposed of at the transfer station, Mr. Lombardo said, revealed that the majority, about 67 percent, hails from failing septic systems that must be pumped out regularly and “not from routine maintenance.”

       Mr. Lombardo suggested that the money the town could save by closing the plant could be put to better use. “Our recommendation is those funds could and should be used for wastewater management improvements and water quality improvements. We think that the investment to improve or repair the malfunctioning [septic] systems is going to have a good economic payback,” he said, along with a positive environmental effect.

       Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said that a $50,000 a month cutback in spending on the transfer station would accrue to $6 million in savings over 10 years, savings that could be used in the “broader context” to “confront this problem of this creeping degradation of surface water quality.”

       The board will have to carefully review and discuss Mr. Lombardo’s report, he said, and decide how to proceed.

       The town is “where we are today,” Mr. Cantwell said, because decisions on the scavenger waste plant were delayed. “As a result of that, that operation down there has become very inefficient and very wasteful.”

       “If there were savings, those savings should be reinvested,” Mr. Cantwell said, into, for example, a program to address failing septic systems in sensitive areas near water bodies.

       “This is a wonderful opportunity to redirect funding,” Mr. Lombardo said, from a “black hole” providing little benefit to the town.

       After the town board determines a proposed path to take, Mr. Cantwell suggested, a meeting should be held to solicit public opinion on the ideas.

       The Lombardo Associates report is one portion of a comprehensive wastewater management plan being developed for the town. It will include recommendations not only for scavenger waste management, but also for water quality protection and monitoring. Information and documents related to the project, including a full report on the scavenger waste plant, are posted online at ehwaterrestore.com.