Rebates to Get Underway

An effort to encourage East Hampton Town business and residential property owners to replace septic systems that release untreated effluent into the environment with one of four wastewater treatment systems recently approved by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services will begin tomorrow, when applications for rebates will be accepted. 

“We’ve had a lot of inquiries; there’s a lot of interest,” Kim Shaw, the town natural resources director, said yesterday.

In an effort to reduce the nitrogen pollution in surface and drinking water that comes from septic waste, East Hampton has instituted the rebate program and adopted a law, to take effect in January, requiring low-nitrogen waste treatment rather than traditional septics for new construction, reconstruction, and major renovations.

Property owners with maximum annual incomes of $500,000 will be eligible for rebates and, for residential sites, the money may only be applied at a primary residence. Those within designated water protection districts, or whose income is within the income limit for affordable housing set by the county, could receive rebates covering the full cost of a new system, up to $16,000, with removal of an old one. Eligible property owners outside the designated water protection areas could receive rebates of up to 75 percent of the cost, or $10,000.

The water protection districts include all of East Hampton Town’s harbor protection areas surrounding ponds and harbors. Wainscott Pond is included, as well as the following priority areas: the downtown, dock area, Ditch Plain, and Camp Hero in Montauk, the Three Mile Harbor and south Hog Creek watersheds, the East Hampton Village business center, the densely developed neighborhoods of Springs, and a Sag Harbor water quality priority area. 

All four of the county-approved systems, made by three different manufacturers, treat waste by using biological processes to convert nitrogen into a gaseous form that can be released into the atmosphere, thereby avoiding nitrogen’s being released into the ground where it seeps into drinking and surface waters. 

Engineers and contractors familiar with the systems who have county endorsement will be able to help select and install the system that best suits a specific site. Several other systems are expected to be added to the approved list shortly, after pilot studies on their efficacy are completed.

The money for the town rebates will come from 20 percent of the community preservation fund, which voters approved last year for water quality improvement projects. The fund, which gets money from a 2-percent real estate transfer tax, had originally been intended only for land preservation. 

East Hampton Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, who sponsored the rebate legislation, said Tuesday that it is estimated that up to $5 million will be available for rebates through the end of this year; a similar amount could be available in 2018. This estimate is based on average C.P.F. income over 10 years. While other water quality improvement projects to be funded from the same pool are getting underway, the price tags are comparatively low for those being initiated immediately, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, leaving money for the rebates. “I doubt we’ll have to turn anybody away,” he said.

East Hampton’s rebate program will become part of a regional push to eliminate inadequate septic systems, particularly near bays and ponds. While the county is providing outright, upfront grants for septic system replacement, property owners participating in the town program will have to have the work done first and request reimbursement.

Mr. Van Scoyoc suggested that those eligible for rebates who do not have money available could make arrangements with contractors to get the work done in anticipation of the town rebate. “We wanted to see how that would work out,” he said. Mr. Van Scoyoc, the Democratic candidate for town supervisor in November, said the board could discuss revising the program in the future, if need be.

“The town’s septic rebate program is a significant step toward improving our local ground and surface waters. And with the adoption of the strictest standards in Suffolk County, we’re on track to make significant improvements in water quality,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.

  Applications for the rebate can be obtained from the Natural Resources Department or downloaded from the town website at ehamptonny.gov. Once approved, property owners must have the system’s replacement done within six months and submit proof before receiving the money. As with any septic system installation, County Health Department approval will be needed.

Under the county’s Reclaim Our Water initiative, property owners may be awarded up to $11,000 to pay for low-nitrogen septic systems. In addition, low-interest loans are available. The county began accepting applications for its grant program in July. Information is posted on a website dedicated to the program, reclaimourwater.info. 

While the use of the recently approved types of septic treatment systems, being called “innovative, alternative onsite wastewater systems,” is new here, the technology has been used throughout the country and worldwide for decades. 

Environmentalists have long pressed for the prohibition of antiquated septic technology. The town’s requirement for their use in new construction or substantial renovation or rebuilding, to take effect in January, will for the first time impose a higher standard.

Two of the four approved systems are made by Norweco, an Ohio-based company established in 1906. Another system, the Orenco Advantex AX20-RT, has been used worldwide since 1981, according to Angela Bounds, a marketing manager of the company, based in Oregon.

The fourth approved system, the Hydro-Action AN Series, has been manufactured for close to three decades. James Conley, a sales manager at the Indiana company, said thousands are in use throughout the country. “It’s definitely not new technology,” he said. The systems work on the same principle as the technology used in municipal wastewater treatment plants since the early 1900s, he said, only modified 

for smaller units for residences.

Estimates provided by the county, and information about vendors for all the systems, show installation costs ranging from $13,439 to $16,919, when the units are installed using existing leaching methods, with costs from just over $16,000 to $19,792 with a new leaching structure, and up to $23,578 with the additional installation of what is called a pressurized shallow drain field for leaching. Costs also may vary according to site restraints. Additional fees for engineering design and permits range from $2,500 to $5,200, depending on the firm selected. 

All of the systems have external control panels and require continued access to lids at ground level that allow inspection and annual maintenance. Electric is estimated to cost from $57 to $266 a year. Neither the town nor county program will cover the expense of restoring landscaping that may be affected by the installation.