Mobile Home Park Finds Own Septic Fix

Residents of the Three Mile Harbor Trailer Park hope that a new septic system will bring relief from sewage spills and backups. Morgan McGivern

    Residents of the Three Mile Harbor Trailer Park in East Hampton are moving ahead with the installation of a custom-designed septic system at the property close to the head of the harbor, even as the East Hampton Town Board is having the site appraised for a possible purchase using the community preservation fund.
    On Tuesday, a large truck from the DiSunno excavating company was on site, and a retaining wall had been built.
    The trailer park residents have been beseeching the town for years to follow through on a promise to pay for and install a septic system to replace the existing one, which often fails, sending waves of sewage above ground throughout the park.
    The town once owned the park, but sold it to a residents’ cooperative. At the time of the sale, officials promised to correct the septic problem, a difficult task because of the shallow depth to groundwater and soil makeup at the site. A $600,000 system was designed, and the project was listed in the town’s capital budget.
    However, a recent push by Councilwoman Theresa Quigley to borrow money to get construction under way was stalled when three board members, Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilmen Dominick Stanzione and Peter Van Scoyoc, voted instead to look into buying the residents out and returning the land to its natural state. A section of the trailer park property is adjacent to the town’s Soak Hides nature preserve, which contains a dreen leading to Three Mile Harbor.
    They expressed doubt about the potential for the proposed septic system to work effectively, and proposed that a better route would be to help the 16 low-income families at the park relocate. That way, they said, the potential for septic pollutants from the trailers to reach groundwater and the harbor headwaters would be eliminated. Ms. Quigley and Supervisor Bill Wilkinson disagreed, but the three-member majority proceeded to order an appraisal.
    Reached by phone on Tuesday, Mae Bushman, the head of the trailer park residents’ association, would not comment. She said there is “nothing happening” at the park, then added, “nothing being done with the town.”    
    “We don’t want any information going out at this time,” she said in answer to a question about how the residents were financing the project.
    Because of the residents’ financial hardship, and after requests by Ms. Bushman, the town has been waiving fees for dumping waste pumped out of the park’s septic system at the municipal scavenger waste transfer station, absorbing the cost of having that waste removed to a treatment facility.
    Tom Ruhle, the town’s director of housing and community development, who has been involved in seeking a solution for the park residents for years, said yesterday that he believed that the residents’ association had been able to obtain a loan for the septic project from the Leviticus Fund, a nonprofit group through which investors can provide capital for “socially responsible means to serve low-income neighborhoods,” according to the group’s Web site.
    The three town board members who voted to have the park site appraised have also supported the idea of developing a comprehensive town wastewater management plan, in which an examination of the septic issues at the trailer park could be included.
    They voted last Thursday to request proposals from engineering firms that could coordinate the development of such a plan. Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson voted against that move. “Statements of qualifications” from firms will be accepted through Oct. 18 by the town purchasing office, which can provide specifications as to what is being requested.
    At a meeting early this summer, Ms. Quigley expressed frustration with a possible delay in construction of the new trailer park septic system.
     “We should probably inspect every single septic system along Three Mile Harbor. Let’s do that, and let’s hire someone to help us. It’ll probably take about five years, and who knows what it will cost us — but let’s study it. And meanwhile, what will happen to the health and safety of those people?” she asked.
    Kim Shaw, the town’s director of natural resources, said that she had inspected the ongoing work at the trailer park, and that the proper County Health Department and State Department of Environmental Conservation permits had been obtained. A town building permit had been issued for the project about a month ago, she said.
    Ms. Overby and Mr. Van Scoyoc said early this week that they had heard about the septic system installation, but were unaware of the details. Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson did not respond to a request by e-mail for comment.  Mr. Stanzione, the board’s liaison to the community preservation fund committee, said that, in his view, the installation of a costly system would not necessarily preclude a future purchase of the land by the town.


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