This November, the five East End towns are expected to have a proposition on the ballot extending the Community Preservation Fund two percent real estate transfer tax to 2050, with an amendment that would allow 20 percent of the money to be used by the towns for water quality projects.
As part of the change, towns are required by the state law authorizing the tax to come up with plans for what to do with the money, much like each of the East End towns now has a list of properties they’d like to acquire with CPF money.
East Hampton Town’s Natural Resources Department has been busy in the past few months putting together a Water Quality Improvement Plan for how they’d like to use the money.
Changes to the town code to permit the extension of the CPF tax and the Water Quality Improvement Plan will be the subject of a public hearing at the town board’s Aug. 4 meeting at 6:30 p.m. The full text of the the code changes is online here.
East Hampton Natural Resources Director Kim Shaw and Natural Resources Environmental Analyst Melissa Winslow have been making the rounds of town board work sessions the past couple weeks to lay out the details of the Water Quality Improvement Plan.
Ms. Shaw said at the board’s July 12 work session in Montauk that, if the CPF changes are approved by voters, East Hampton can expect to receive about $4.5 to $4.6 million from the fund annually that can be used for water quality projects — for a total of about $150 million over 30 years.
According to the state law authorizing the CPF extension, the water quality money can be spent on improvements to wastewater treatment, non-point source pollution control and abatement, habitat restoration and pollution prevention.
East Hampton’s draft of the plan, available online here, includes detailed lists of potential projects that could be eligible for the funding, broken down by watershed.
Ms. Shaw said that, based on the Suffolk County Health Department wastewater standards at the time permits were issued for construction in East Hampton, more than 60 percent of homes in town simply have cesspools — without even septic tanks, let alone even newer technology.
Ms. Shaw and Ms. Winslow said they’d like to develop a town rebate program for nitrogen-reducing septic systems, both for individual homes and for communities, especially those close to the most environmentally sensitive areas in town — at Ditch Plains and Camp Hero in Montauk, and in Springs.
They also said they’d like to see the town upgrade its own wastewater facilities, to help lead the community.
They are also looking into installing semi-permeable reactive barriers near some water bodies — a cost-effective way of preventing excess nitrogen from entering bays, ponds and harbors.
Ms. Shaw and Ms. Winslow also outlined numerous aquatic habitat restoration projects that they’d like to implement, along with “rigorous water quality monitoring so we can track our efforts,” said Ms. Shaw.
The local law up for public hearing on Aug. 4 includes an outline for the creation of a Water Quality Technical Advisory Committee, an arm of the town’s CPF Advisory Committee that would be responsible for vetting projects and recommending them to the town board.
As drafted, the committee would include up to seven members, who serve without pay, and who preferably have experience in water quality issues, estuarian science, civil engineering or shellfish restoration.
Though the law states that “projects which have as their primary purpose the accommodation of new growth as opposed to the remediation of water quality shall not qualify for funding under this article,” Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said she wants to make sure that the new funding can’t be used to fuel more development throughout town.
“Is there something in this law that we can say ‘no project can use any of the money to increase density ever?'” she asked at the July 12 work session. Ms. Overby said that she’s concerned, in particular, with the installation of neighborhood wastewater treatment facilities.
Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said that in some areas, like Ditch Plains, where the water table is already so high that it’s impacting conventional septic systems, community wastewater systems may be the only solution.
Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said she’d like to see more clarity in the process by which cost analysis is done for projects, and in how the projects are approved.
Mr. Cantwell said that, if the CPF extension is approved by voters in November, no money for water quality will be collected until 2017, and the town likely won’t begin funding projects until even later than that.
“But it has to start with community support for the plan, and this law will enable that,” he said. “There certainly is a lot to work out. Many of the problems we have are going to be solved on a site-by-site basis.”
“This is here folks. This is not something that might happen some day,” he added of the town’s water quality issues. “If we’re going to do something in our time here, this is the time to do it. We’ve gotta get started. These funds aren’t going to be available tomorrow.”