Septic Rebates Okayed

Town to require new nitrogen-reducing systems

Beginning in 2018, installation of advanced technology septic systems that treat waste for nitrogen will be required in East Hampton Town for new buildings, according to a law passed Tuesday by the town board, and home and business owners who want to switch to the environmentally friendly systems could,  beginning this fall, receive a rebate covering as much as the entire cost.

Nitrogen flow from traditional septic systems, which release untreated waste, have been tied to increasing ground and surface water pollution, and efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution are key to water quality protection plans enacted by the state and county as well as the town.

Click here for the East Hampton Town septic rebate program brochure

The nitrogen reduction requirements adopted this week in East Hampton are the most stringent of any town in Suffolk County. “The town board has adopted the highest standard for water quality protection, and the rebate program should encourage property owners to replace failing waste systems with low-nitrogen alternatives,” Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said this week in a press release.

The Suffolk County Health Department has approved five different low-nitrogen septic systems for use, and approvals for others, which have been undergoing testing through a pilot program, are forthcoming. A county grant program for septic system replacement got underway earlier this summer; East Hampton residents are eligible for that program as well as the town’s rebate.

Owners of primary residences in East Hampton, with incomes less than $500,000, and all commercial property owners are eligible for town rebates.

Those with properties in water protection districts, which surround the town’s harbors and watersheds and include high-density areas such as neighborhoods in Springs, or who meet county affordable housing income guidelines, may receive rebates of up to 100 percent of the costs, up to $16,000. Others are eligible for rebates of 75 percent of the costs, up to $10,000.

The rebate money may be applied to the costs of removing an old system and the design and installation of a new one. Restoration of landscaping that may be removed in the process will not be covered.

The money will come from the town’s community preservation fund, a 2-percent real estate transfer tax that was extended through 2050 in a referendum last fall. Voters also approved allowing up to 20 percent of the fund, traditionally reserved for land preservation only, to be used on water quality improvement projects.

Applications for the program will be accepted beginning on Sept. 1. Those interested can contact the town’s Natural Resources Department.

In a townwide study that led to the development of a wastewater management plan, consultants for the town estimated that there are more than 19,000 failing septic systems in East Hampton, comprising the largest source of nitrogen entering groundwater, ponds, and bays. An excess of nitrogen results in algal blooms, low oxygen, and bacterial contamination that harms plant and animal species and can pose health dangers to swimmers. 

Approved septic systems are those that reduce nitrogen levels of emissions to 19 milligrams or less per liter; that standard will become more stringent, at a maximum of 10 milligrams per liter, once the Health Department approves systems that can achieve that reduction.

The new low-nitrogen systems will be required for all new construction as well as when there is a substantial expansion of existing structures, when a sanitary system is to be voluntarily replaced, and when a commercial property proposing more intensive use requires site plan review.

A second hearing on the regulation was held by the town board last week after changes were made to exempt those who have already received Health Department permits, “grandfathering” their already approved traditional septic systems.

The exemption should also apply to those who are before the planning and zoning boards, Britton Bistrian, an Amagansett planning consultant, said, as those property owners have already spent substantial time and money planning development.

Chris Tucci, a contractor also speaking at the hearing, called the septic rebate program a “fantastic initative,” but suggested that those building new houses in a moderate price range also be eligible for town money. The increased cost of a low-nitrogen system, usually in the $15,000 range, will have a “significant impact” on the overall cost of some houses, he said. Property purchasers, who pay the preservation fund transfer tax, “have put into the C.P.F.,” he said, and should be eligible for rebates that will bring down construction costs.

In a letter submitted last week to the town board, the Long Island Builders Institute said that the low-nitrogen system requirement should at first only be applied in environmentally sensitive areas of the town. In view of the costs and additional permitting processes, the industry group said, new requirements should be implemented gradually. The letter also questioned the income restrictions for eligible residential property owners, and the lack of them for commercial landowners. Under the county program, Mitchell H. Pally, the chief executive officer of LIBI notes, commercial property owners are not eligible for rebates, a position his group supports.

“Protecting water quality is our highest priority because our quality of life and economy depend on safe drinking water and pristine surface water,” Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said in a press release.