Money Sought for Septic Grants

Long Island waters suffer from nitrogen pollution

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Tuesday that the county has requested $50 million in state money to provide grants for the replacement of cesspool and septic systems with advanced wastewater treatment systems.

Long Island waters suffer from nitrogen pollution. An excess of nitrogen, which is released from traditional waste treatment systems, causes too much algae to grow, decreasing oxygen levels, harming the quality of the water, and killing off fish. Toxic algal blooms, which make humans sick, also grow.

It is estimated that more than two out of three cesspools and septic systems in the region are too old to function properly, and many require two or more pump-outs per year. 

The $50 million would come from the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s water quality improvement project, and will advance the recommendations in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan initiative. It would be used to fund the county’s previously announced septic improvement program, which provides grants to homeowners installing advanced wastewater treatment systems. The money will be divided equally among the 10 towns in Suffolk County and could pay for the replacement of up to 5,000 systems.

The estimated cost of the recommended treatment systems is between $15,000 and $20,000. County residents with incomes below $300,000 are eligible to receive up to $11,000 for design and installation of new systems at year-round residences, while those with incomes up to $500,000 are eligible for grants of half that much. Under the county program, homeowners could finance the remainder of the cost of a new wastewater system with a 15-year, low-interest loan.

In East Hampton, town officials will hold a hearing tonight on a town septic replacement rebate program, which is expected to be implemented immediately. As proposed, it would provide grants for the full cost of alternative, advanced systems — up to $16,000 — to eligible property owners in water protection priority areas and those in certain income brackets, and up to $10,000, or 75 percent of the cost, for other town property owners.

Should Mr. Bellone succeed in obtaining the state funding, that money would bolster the money available to the town through the portion of the community preservation fund available for water quality improvement projects.

It would be a “significant supplement,” Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said Tuesday, “with all kinds of benefit to us.” Dedicating the state money to the rebate program would allow the town to advance other water quality improvement projects, or make additional land purchases, using the preservation fund money, he said.

After tonight’s hearing on the septic rebate program, Mr. Cantwell said, “we should be ready to hit the ground running.”