Wastewater Planning Decried

Real goal is costly septic upgrades, Quigley claims

    Two members of the East Hampton Town Board opposed to the development of a comprehensive wastewater management plan for the town continued to voice objections this week, criticizing a consultant’s presentation at last week’s project kickoff meeting to outline the work.

    Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley were outvoted by the board majority when consultants were hired to develop a science-based plan. Mr. Wilkinson said Tuesday that he “sat through most of the hearing” and watched the remainder in his office, and Ms. Quigley, who did not attend but said that she watched a tape of the proceedings online, expressed their conviction that the study — an examination into water quality protection and wastewater management, including both the town’s scavenger waste treatment plant and the effect of individual septic systems — will result in a mandate by the town that residents install new septic systems.

    But other board members said that, with the consultants’ process of collecting and analyzing data just beginning, they are far from conclusions, and that potential solutions to whatever pollution issues are identified will be weighed and decided in the future, based on the information presented to the board.

    “Some people are fear-mongering about what this is going to mean for the town,” Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said during the board’s work session on Tuesday. “You’re perpetuating this idea that everybody’s going to have to reach deep into their pockets. I’m far from that conclusion,” he said.

     Mr. Wilkinson said that he has a six-year-old septic system with a 135-foot separation from groundwater, but that he “left the meeting [last week] thinking it could cost me $10,000 to fix this system.”

    Mr. Wilkinson broached the topic during the Tuesday session, saying that he had sent an e-mail to other board members “reflective of my personal disappointment in the meeting.”    

    He criticized Pio Lombardo, one of several consultants who made the presentation, which was taped and aired live on the town’s public access provider, LTV, and reported on in last week’s issue of The Star.

    Both Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Quigley have criticized the choice of Mr. Lombardo, who is working along with experts from two other engineering consulting firms, the FPM and Woods Hole Groups, which specialize in hydrogeology and similar fields. Mr. Lombardo’s company, Lombardo Associates, has developed a high-tech septic system called Nitrex that is highly effective at removing nitrogen from wastewater. As part of his contract with the town, he has signed two statements attesting that he would not receive royalties should sales of the system result from development of the town’s wastewater plan. He provided copies of those statements to the press last week.

    “I sensed obfuscation of the issues, and cost,” Mr. Wilkinson said Tuesday. “I just didn’t feel that the residents were getting the answers that were due.”

    At last week’s meeting, residents had asked what steps the town would ultimately take according to a wastewater plan developed by the consultants. Mr. Lombardo explained that policy decisions would be made by the town board after the consultants deliver their data and recommendations in January.

    “I felt it was slippery,” Ms. Quigley said of Mr. Lombardo’s presentation. “The difficult questions never got answers.” Why even do the study, she asked, if board members are set on mandating the installation of new residential septic systems? “You have hired a consultant — you hired him, because I voted no — whose sole purpose is to get people to use Nitrex systems,” she said.

    “I heard no conclusions at this meeting,” Ms. Overby said. “It was a beginning meeting. Mr. Lombardo laid out the plans. I thought it was professional. I don’t get where you get from Point A to Point Z so rapidly, without steps in between.” Ms. Overby told Ms. Quigley she was venturing into “dangerous territory . . . [that] doesn’t get us any further into studying the problem.”

    “I do feel that some of the statements you have made, Theresa, are libelous,” she said. “You’re putting us in jeopardy. . . . I know you didn’t like it; you didn’t vote for it. But that doesn’t mean you can continue to trash everything that’s going on.”

    “We have a problem; we know we have a problem,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “We have algal blooms; red tide. We have paralytic shellfish disease. If we do nothing, our waters . . . will be in jeopardy.”

    “We acknowledge the problem and we’re going to pursue ways to address the problem,” he said. “We don’t really have an option to avoid the problem.”

    Recommendations regarding upgrades to sub-par individual septic systems may well be a part of the overall plan for water protection, Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “Addressing known causes of pollution is one of the ways to get to a solution.”

    Ms. Quigley appeared to do some quick math as she spoke, saying that if even half of the town’s 22,000 residential parcels require a new Nitrex system, “we’re up in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

    And, she said, “This $600 million fix is only the septic systems.” The consultants are to examine and make recommendations about the town’s scavenger waste treatment plant and about water quality monitoring.

    “So that’s my reaction to the meeting; I didn’t understand it,” Ms. Quigley said.

    “What troubles me most was the reference to other studies,” Ms. Quigley said. In describing the scope of the consultants’ work in the coming months, Mr. Lombardo had suggested that additional studies, if needed or desired, could be done to look at certain issues in more depth.

    “How the heck much money are we going to be spending on studies?” Ms. Quigley asked.

    She urged residents to watch the meeting and draw their own conclusions. It can be seen on the LTV Web site, ltveh.org. A Web site has also been set up to provide the public with up-to-date information on the process of developing the wastewater plan, ehwaterrestore.com.

    Ms. Quigley reiterated her opinion that the town should have turned over its scavenger waste treatment plant to a private company and taken no further steps. She and Mr. Wilkinson, who had met with representatives of the one company that submitted a proposal to take over the plant after the town sent out a request for bidders, were voted down on that course of action over a year ago.  “I believed in that course of action, and I still believe in that course of action,” she said.