A long-term loan from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation could be the key to the future of the blighted Southampton hamlet of Riverside, whose business center has struggled for years do to the lack of adequate sewage treatment.
The Environmental Facilities Corporation has earmarked just over $35 million in its Clean Water Revolving Fund for Water Pollution Control for the Riverside/Flanders area.
“The’ve earmarked it and we have a right to claim it,” announced Sean McLean, a vice president for Renaissance Downtowns, which is working on the redevelopment plan for Riverside, at a March 1 community meet-up in Riverside.
The money was earmarked by the state in response to Suffolk County’s recent sewer study of Riverside, said Mr. McLean.
Rennaisance Downtowns’ Riverside Redevelopment Action Plan (RRAP), approved by Southampton Town last December, calls for a plant large enough to treat 800,000 gallons of wastewater per year, including the waste generated by existing residences in Riverside, which would be hooked up to the sewage treatment plant free of charge.
Mr. McLean said the final project, including the pipe to bring the waste line to existing houses, would cost about $50 million. He said there are “a multitude” of other financing options being considered for the project.
A working group comprised of representatives from Southampton Town, Suffolk County and Renaissance Downtowns is currently working on a three-month phasing study to determine the order in which parts of the treatment system should be constructed.
That group will also need to update its application to the Environmental Facilities Corporation before receiving the loan, said Mr. McLean.
“There is a sense that we have all hands on deck,” said County Legislator Bridget Fleming of the sewage treatment plant project on Tuesday. She added that the group is working on a grant proposal for an engineering study for the plant. The deadline for that grant is in June.
Ms. Fleming said the county can access the EFC money once the plans for the waste treatment plant are complete.
“The RRAP identified several potential sites, but we still need to do a very comprehensive analysis, including engineering, of what sites would be proper for construction and what septic treatment system would be used,” said Ms. Fleming.
The plant called for in the RRAP would treat the wastewater for nitrogen, ensuring that the effluent contains less than 4 parts per million of nitrogen when it is released to the Peconic River, said Mr. McLean, who added that the RRAP also calls for the reconstruction of 15 acres of wetlands alongside the river, to be fed by effluent from the treatment plant.
Because of the low nitrogen standard, naturalists working on the wetland project will need to use plants that don’t require much nitrogen to grow.
“We will have a net decrease of nitrogen to the Peconic Estuary,” he said, when compared with what is being released now by properties that are currently hooked up to aging cesspools and septic systems.
“It’s outside the Pine Barrens Compatible Development Area, but we’re treating it to levels that the Pine Barrens would approve,” said Mr. McLean. “Ten years ago, this technology didn’t exist.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who served in Ms. Fleming’s seat as county legislator until December of 2015, said he believes a smaller scale solution might be more advantageous to the Riverside redevelopment effort, at least for the short term.
“The loan would provide the bulk of the money, but they still have to pay that money back,” he said. “The interest rate would be lower than any other source, but it’s still a considerable cost that has to be spread over the redevelopment. Will the economic revenue be sufficient?”
Mr. Schneiderman said he is in discussions with Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter to tie the area surrounding the Riverside traffic circle into the Riverhead sewage treatment plant.
“That would provide for cafés, stores and apartments above,” he said. “To do that, you don’t need $35 million.”
A pipe from that plant currently crosses the Peconic River near the Riverhead Library, where it services the Suffolk County Center.
Mr. Schneiderman said he believes bringing sewer pipe in from Riverhead to the area surrounding the traffic circle would cost “a few million dollars,” which could come from the county’s sewer stabilization fund.
If the large-scale plant were built, the location and operator of the sewage treatment plant are still unknowns.
Early proposals had considered siting the plant at the Suffolk County Center, but that area was deemed to be a possible tiger salamander breeding site in Renaissance Downtowns’ Environmental Impact Statement for the RRAP.
Mr. McLean said he foresees the sewage treatment plant will be operated either by a private entity or by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works.
“I don’t believe Southampton Town is interested” in running the plant, he said.
Mr. Schneiderman said, in his experience, “Suffolk County is always interested in operating sewage treatment plants, rather than private developers.”
The town has insisted in the past that the project not be a burden on people already living in Riverside, who will be hooked up to the sewer free of charge, with the cost of paying back the EFC loan borne by new construction.
“In the long run, people living here should see a reduction in their taxes,” said Mr. McLean at the March 1 meet-up.
He added that the 10-year buildout plan for the Riverside area that would be served by the sewage treatment plant does not include the neighboring hamlet of Flanders.
“Flanders is going to remain single-family development,” he said. “The state is not going to invest more money before this project is done. It’s one thing to pass zoning. It’s another to borrow $35 million.”
Renaissance Downtowns is currently getting appraisals to purchase just over 10 acres of land in Riverside from Southampton Town — property that will be used to jump-start redevelopment throughout the hamlet.
Five of those acres are behind the State Police barracks between Riverleigh Avenue and Pine Street and six are in the light industrial zone area behind the Suffolk Federal Credit Union on Flanders Road.
Mr. McLean said he anticipates Renaissance Downtowns will begin filing site plans for those projects in about three months, after the sewage treatment plant phasing plan is complete.
The Renaissance Downtowns project has been successful up to this point due in large part to a community group it has organized called Riverside Rediscovered.
Members of Riverside Rediscovered have shown up at Southampton Town Board hearings, petitioned the county to keep its pledge to fund an upgrade this year to the Riverside traffic circle, and have helped bring programs from Bridgehampton’s Childrens Museum of the East End to Riverside.
Ms. Fleming said Tuesday that the county is still on track to do the traffic circle work this year, and she anticipates a request for proposals from contractors will go out in June.
“If the public could stay engaged, excited and energetic, that would help,” Mr. McLean told Riverside Rediscovered members at the March 1 meet-up. “The community is going to have to move Caesar on this.”
“This time we might not be going to Town Hall,” added Riverside Rediscovered Community Liaison Siris Barrios. “We may have to go to Hauppauge or Albany.”