Meschutt Beach County Park on the Peconic Bay in Hampton Bays is one heck of a popular place. It’s a place you can bring your kids to a beach where they’re just feet from both the restrooms and a cheeseburger. It’s a place you can dance the night away just about any night of the week. And it’s a perfect place to watch the sun sink down across the Peconic Bay.
But the park is also a victim of its own success when it comes to sewage treatment. The aging facility, which serves hundreds and sometimes thousands of customers a day, operated for many years without a septic tank or even a grease trap at the restaurant, both of which are in violation of current county health codes.
But today Meschutt Beach is just the first of Suffolk County’s parks that will be retrofitted with an advanced, nitrogen-reducing wastewater treatment system, thanks to a bill passed by the legislature this week sponsored by North Fork Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, which requires the county to retrofit septic systems at county parks.
County Executive Steve Bellone signed the bill at a press conference at Meschutt Beach Thursday morning, along with a bill requiring continuing education for septic workers who install and maintain upgraded septic systems.
Both bills dovetail with the county executive’s current “Reclaim Our Water” initiative to upgrade septic systems and restore water quality across the county.
“This is something that we are all in together,” he said. “But just because it’s important does not mean by any means we’ll be successful. That comes from all of us coming together.”
“If it weren’t for his vision on this, it would be just another bill going through the legislature to approve septic rings and all that waste would just be running back into the bay,” said Mr. Krupski of Mr. Bellone’s ongoing water quality initiatives. “I didn’t grow up here. I grew up on the other side of Robins Island. But it’s the same bay… Everyone knows the value of the resource that we have here — scallops, eels oysters. You can’t take that for granted. This is where this all comes from.”
The county’s new sewer czar, Peter Scully, said he believes 2016 will be a “very, very busy year” as the county begins to implement its Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan.
“We’re taking steps today on what will be a long journey to reversing decades of decline,” he said. “It’s going to be a very exciting time, I think, in Suffolk County history.”
South Fork County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said the problems with the septic system at Meschutt Beach were first brought to his attention by a local reporter.
“Many of our county parks are in waterfront locations,” he said. “Funding for this comes from the sewer stabilization fund, which was approved by a referendum on the ballot. I believe this is the first expenditure from that fund. It’s the right thing to do for this area.”
Mr. Schneiderman added that the system will be designed to prevent it from being damaged by storm tides at a beach that was severely damaged during Superstorm Sandy.
Mr. Krupski said the county plans to work first on failing septic systems and those that are close to surface waters.
Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, who will be taking Mr. Schneiderman’s seat on the county legislature in January, said she believes this is a very exciting time to begin working on environmental issues at the county legislature.
“It’s exciting to hear Steve Bellone say we’re all in this together,” she said.
Kevin McDonald of The Nature Conservancy, who also serves as the chairman of the Peconic Estuary Program’s Citizens Advisory Committee, lives in Hampton Bays, and Meschutt Beach was the place he usually brought his kids.
“The kids could get food, drinks and a bathroom within 50 feet of the beach,” he said, adding that the proximity of the bathroom to the beach, while a convenience for parents, has come at the expense of the environment.
“This is a real opportunity to have a teachable moment,” he said, adding that the county could consider placing plaques in the restrooms reminding visitors that the restrooms have been upgraded to protect the environment.
The new septic system is expected to be installed before the Meschutt Beach Hut opens Memorial Day Weekend of 2016.