Pictured Above: Downtown Riverhead as seen from one of the three coves in the Riverside Maritime Trail Park property

The Southampton Town Board will continue to hear public comments on the environmental review of its proposed Riverside sewage treatment plant in January, as the town prepares further documentation for the creation of the sewer district.

The lack of a sewage treatment plant has long seen by Riverside redevelopment advocates as the stumbling block that’s held up revitalization of this blighted hamlet just south of downtown Riverhead. 

Now, with $35 million in grant and no-interest loan funding beginning to come together for the project, eight years after the adoption of its Riverside Revitalization Action Plan (RRAP), the board heard public comment on a Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the sewage treatment plant on Dec. 12, and is holding the public hearing open until its second meeting in January, scheduled for Jan. 23 at 1 p.m., at which time it also expects to hold hearings on a map and town law creating the Riverside Sewer District.

“The zoning (in the RRAP) was a theoretical development, all done in 2015,” said Town Planning & Development Administrator Janice Scherer as she introduced the public hearing. “You can’t avail yourself of that code unless and until there’s sewage treatment for the density talked about in that code.”

As the project comes closer to becoming a reality, representatives of Riverhead Town and the Riverhead Central School District expressed concern at the hearing about the nearly 2,300 residential units that could be built in the area surrounding the Riverside traffic circle.

“This will have a substantial impact on Riverhead,” said Riverhead Town Economic Development, Planning and Building Department Administrator Dawn Thomas at the Dec. 12 public hearing, adding that Riverside and downtown Riverhead “effectively function as one community and one economic ecosystem.”

Speaking on behalf of the Riverhead Town Board, she urged the Southampton Town Board to revisit the RRAP in light of demographic data that she said has changed dramatically since the plan was drafted, in the hopes that new development will foster diversity and not increase racial segregation in an area that is already highly segregated.

She added that there has been a “marked reduction in opportunities for homeownership” in the area.

“These are historically disadvantaged communities,” she said, which “both rely on infrastructure in Riverhead Town. Many people are unaware that Riverside is not part of Riverhead Town.”

Riverside is, however, part of the Riverhead School, Fire and Library districts, even though it is in Southampton Township.

Ms. Thomas said Riverhead looks forward to working together with Southampton Town, and pointed out that both communities applied together for a 2021 Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant from New York State for Riverhead and Riverside. 

Riverhead received $10 million in DRI funding for projects on its side of the river. Riverside received $5 million in Suffolk County grant funding for the sewer project this fall, and $5 million in federal grant funding for the sewer project last year.

“The Riverhead School District must be considered in any development plan,” Ms. Thomas told the Southampton board, adding that a recent $100 million school expansion is already completely full. Two bond referenda for school expansions were also shot down by voters in 2018 and 2020.

Representatives from the Riverhead Central School District echoed Riverhead Town’s concern in a Dec. 11 letter to the Southampton Town Board.

“With 4,000 new residents anticipated by this project, of which a good portion will be families taking advantage of the workforce housing opportunity it represents, it is reasonable to assume that several hundred, if not more, will be school age children,” said Riverhead Board of Education President Colin Palmer, Interim Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and RCFA Union President Gregory Wallace in the letter. “All new housing units and the projected increase in population are all in the catchment area of a single Riverhead Central School District elementary school — the Phillips Avenue Elementary School.”

“There must be included in this plan funding for the expansion of the Phillips Avenue Elementary School or the construction of a new Riverhead Central School District elementary school that will be dedicated to students from this new community,” they added. “There must be additional funding allocated for the expansion of the district’s middle school and high school. It is clear, from the outcome of both the 2020 and the 2018 bond referendums, the greater Riverhead community is not prepared to take on an additional financial burden.”

The Riverhead Town Board’s environmental consultant, Jeffrey Seaman, said that the Riverhead County Center and the Suffolk County Criminal Court and jail, which are all actually in Riverside, have been sending their wastewater to be processed by the Riverhead Sewer District “for at least 15 years.”

He added that the agreement, in which the effluent is currently sent nearly three miles to Riverhead’s treatment facility, was supposed to be temporary “until a better solution was envisioned.”

He added that Riverhead’s Comprehensive Plan Update, now underway, calls for a transfer of development rights program from farmland to areas closer to downtown, which will lead to an increase in septic flow that Riverhead wants to have the capacity to accommodate in its existing sewage treatment plant.

“Intelligent planning would dictate we work together, both for Riverhead and for Riverside,” he said.

The Riverside sewage treatment plant is slated to be built in two phases on 11 acres of Southampton Town-owned property in the Riverside Enterprise Zone behind the Suffolk Federal Credit Union branch on Flanders Road. It will consist of sequencing batch reactors, which remove bacteria and nitrogen from wastewater, and a conventional leaching field through which the treated effluent would return to the aquifer. 

The town’s engineers said they decided against two other options of leaching the effluent —through a constructed wetlands adjacent to the Peconic River and injecting the effluent into the Lloyd Aquifer through 1,000-foot-deep injection wells. Both options were ruled out because of their high construction costs and maintenance challenges, consultants told the Town Board at the public hearing.

Two nearby mobile home parks on Flanders Road adjacent to the Peconic River, which currently have individual cesspools for each unit, would be among the first areas hooked up to the sewage treatment plant, according to the town’s consultants. 

Angela Huneault, the president of the Flanders, Riverside & Northampton Community Association (FRNCA), who has long been involved with the effort to revitalize Riverside, said the community is “excited for 2024,” and thanked Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who is leaving office at the end of 2023, “for what we are now seeing come forth.”

“You said, years ago, that Riverside is a diamond in the rough, and we’re going to shine,” she said.

Incoming Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and incoming Councilman John Bouvier joined the Flanders and Riverside community in applauding the passage of the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and Councilman John Bouvier, in December of 2015, just before they took office, joined the Flanders and Riverside community in applauding the passage of the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan. Both the Supervisor and Councilmen are leaving office this month after being term-limited out.

She added that she was excited to see work underway at the Riverside Maritime Trail Park on Flanders Road just a little bit east of the Riverside McDonalds. 

The park will center around a 14-acre property, which had once been slated to become a hotel and conference center, which is now owned by Suffolk County. The town has been working with the county through an intermunicipal agreement to design the park on that parcel, and on neighboring town-owned properties, since back in 2018. 

FRNCA has been active in the design process, obtaining a $50,000 Environmental Justice grant in 2017 to hire a landscape architect to work with the community on a design for the park.

The town board voted unanimously in October 2023 to hire The LandTeK Group Inc. for $511,754 to begin construction of the woodland trail portion of the project, using money awarded in 2021 through a state Local Waterfront Revitalization Program grant program

“In order to keep our grant funding, we have to show some progress here,” Town Planning & Development Administrator Janice Scherer told the Town Board at its Sept. 28 work session, just before the bid was awarded. “If we wait, we risk losing the money we have.”

Ms. Scherer said the county had balked at some of the more active recreational uses proposed by the community, and many of those amenities, including a comfort station, would instead have to be moved onto the town-owned portion of the park. The current phase of construction doesn’t include catwalks, boat launches or platforms over the water, which would require permits from the state Department of Conservation (DEC).

Ms. Scherer added that the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan requires developers who build under the new overlay zoning to pay into a fund for the park.

“We’re excited. There are so many possibilities here,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “At least we can get the first phase in. As far as actual access (to the river), we’ll proceed with the permits and see what the DEC has to say.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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