Glynis Berry of Peconic Green Growth is planning to pitch a clustered denitrification septic system for up to 450 homes around Marion Lake in East Marion at the East Marion Community Association meeting Saturday morning.
Ms. Berry presented the findings of PGG’s recent engineering study on the project to the Southold Town board at their work session March 10.
“We need to take proactive steps now,” she said.
Ms. Berry said, for the health of the Peconic Estuary, 33 percent of the nitrogen in the effluent from existing homes near impaired water bodies, and 25 percent of the nitrogen near unimpaired waterbodies must be removed from the waste stream.
For new construction, she said, it’s recommended that 50 percent of the nitrogen be removed from effluent near impaired water bodies and 37.5 percent from near other water bodies.
She pointed to studies that show that much of the nitrogen impairment of waterways in Southold Town is from onsite septic systems.
“We have equal loading as Southampton Town,” she said. “Over 2,000 pounds of nitrogen per day.”
In addition to the damage nitrogen causes in the estuary — leading to harmful algae blooms and weakened root systems in marshlands, Ms. Berry said groundwater on the East End “will no longer be potable unless we do something to mitigate this.”
Drinking water containing more than 10 milligrams per liter of nitrogen is considered unsafe for consumption, but nitrogen concentrations of more than 0.4 milligrams per liter can cause damage to marine ecosystems.
Ms. Berry recently circulated a survey which was filled out by about 750 East Enders, more than half of whom said their houses were built before 1973, when Suffolk County adopted its septic code. Forty-three percent of those people said they know they have onsite cesspools, while 11 percent said they didn’t know if they had cesspools.
“We asked if people were open to community treatment, and we found more were positive than negative, but a lot were on fence,” she said.
Ms. Berry said the most effective way to begin tackling the problem was by placing clustered systems in densly populated areas near the water, and she is focusing on East Marion because the community has been receptive to her ideas in the past.
She said another area she focused on, Brower Woods in Mattituck, would be an ideal candidate for a clustered system, but she believed she would be less likely to convince homeowners there to buy in to the project. Brower woods is not far from an area of Mattituck Inlet found to have saxitoxin — a paralytic shellfish toxin caused by red tide.
Ms. Berry said the clustered system, among the least expensive she’s looked into, would cost about $27,000 per household, and she would like the town’s help in identifying a potential property to build a pump house.
She’s also looking into a new technology known as an “onsite, soil-based system,” which she said is basically a subsurface irrigation system.
“I think within a year, you’re going to see a whole bunch of new things the Suffolk County Health Department will accept,” she said. “They’re trying to increase the possibilities too. They’re very proactively working on this now.”
Ms. Berry said that, with loans available to finance the project, homeowners could pay about $500 per year for the upgrade, which could be reduced further, either by grant money or if Southold Town instituted a wastewater taxing district.
She said Suffolk County is looking into instituting a similar type of taxing district.
But town board members seemed hesitant to tax the town for a project that would benefit just 450 homeowners in East Marion.
Town Supervisor Scott Russell, a former town assessor, did a back-of-the-envelope calculation that each property owner in Southold would pay $60 per year into the taxing district. Later in the meeting, he re-checked his math and realized he’d dropped a decimal place — it would be $600 per year.
“Don’t create a district until you know exactly what going to do and exactly what it will cost,” he said. “We’ll put a couple of us together and scope something.”
Ms. Berry urged town board members to take the lead and act before the county implements a distric.
“I know it’s hard poltically, but if we don’t do this we will lose assets that give you a sense of place,” she said. “I know I’m asking a lot.”
Ms. Berry said Peconic Green Growth and the county are organizing a “Blue & Green Tour” on June 6 to educate the public about alternative septic systems.
The East Marion meeting will be held Saturday, March 14, beginning at 10 a.m. at the East Marion Firehouse. More information is online here.