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Apr 8, 2015 9:26 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sewer Talks Welcomed In Westhampton Beach, But Debate Continues

Apr 8, 2015 10:18 AM

As the Westhampton Beach Village Board explores its options for creating a sewer district within the Main Street business district, local business owners, environmental advocates and politicians are praising the idea, while some village residents are less than thrilled about the idea of footing the bill.

Many questions remain—including how much it would cost the village to hook up to the existing sewage treatment system at Francis Gabreski Airport, which is the most likely option, or how such a project would be funded—but the dominant sentiment on Main Street is that adding sewers will be a boon for the village economy.

“We know there are people who want to come here and continue to expand their businesses from elsewhere, but right now they can’t do it,” said Phil Grossman, a village resident and real estate broker at Brown Harris Stevens. “We need more sewerage capacity so we can bring in those businesses.”

The idea of creating or linking to a sewerage treatment system has been discussed in various degrees since Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore took office last summer, with she and the Village Board communicating with other municipalities, such as Patchogue Village, about their sewerage systems. The Village Board’s exploration accelerated last month when Ms. Moore announced that she would ask Suffolk County to reserve sewage capacity in the 100,000-gallon-per-day system at Gabreski for the village.

Previous attempts to create a sewer district in the village, the most recent about a decade ago, fell short due to the high projected costs of the endeavor, with estimates coming in between $10 million and $20 million.

An exact price for hooking up to the Gabreski system today has not been set, but Ms. Moore said she is optimistic that the cost could be mitigated by grants and aid from the county. However, the project’s overall price tag will still be around $10 million, according to John Donovan, chief engineer of the sanitation division of the Suffolk County Department of Public Works.

Some village residents, including former Mayor Conrad Teller, said they think the price is too great for the benefits it would bring.

Mr. Teller was elected to the village’s top office in 2006 on a platform opposing the creation of a sewer district, and he was a large reason why it never came to fruition. He said he still believes the sewer district would make a small dent in the amount of pollution making its way into Shinnecock and Moriches bays, because other neighboring communities, such as Quiogue, Westhampton and Quogue Village, would still be relying on the same septic tanks and cesspools that have been leaching nitrates into groundwater for decades.

He also argued that the village would have to legally make the system available to every household, which would only increase the total cost. He added that he’d be more open to it if the state were willing to pick up the full tab.

“It’s too expensive for this village, and it’s not going to cure any problem till everybody does it,” Mr. Teller said. “Let the state identify the problem and create a master plan to address it.”

Mr. Teller said other residents share his opinion but aren’t willing to publicly attach their name to an opposition movement.

Mr. Grossman is part of an ad hoc Business Development Committee, which is tasked with making recommendations to the mayor about ways to improve the village. One of that committee’s primary concerns has been the establishment of a sewage treatment system that would allow more bars, restaurants and housing along Main Street.

The committee believes, according to Mr. Grossman, that a sewerage system would allow the village to fill the numerous vacancies that have been created in recent years by the county pulling “wet use” licenses from bars and restaurants because of their proximity to Moniebogue Creek, which is just south of Main Street. Wet use allows for additional water hook-ups and sewer capacity.

“Maybe there are spots we could build small multifamily homes or bed-and-breakfasts, to get rid of the vacancy, but we can’t do that right now because of the flow restrictions,” Mr. Grossman said.

Dr. Chris Gobler, a professor at the Stony Brook University School of Atmospheric and Marine Sciences, said linking up to a sewage treatment system would be a significant step in terms of helping Moniebogue Creek, which is impacted not only by nitrates from effluence but also stormwater runoff that is piped into the creek directly from village streets. “It’s a highly impacted water body, so I think it’s a great idea to make sure the situation is addressed however possible,” he said.

Joseph Musnicki, a Westhampton Beach resident and owner of Ocean Spray Hot Tubs & Saunas, said he supports the village hooking up to the county system, even though his business, which is located on Old Riverhead Road, would not be able to connect.

Mr. Musnicki, who has operated his business in the village since 1981, said even if his business isn’t benefiting directly from a sewer system, the benefits of it on Main Street would positively affect everyone who owns a home or business in Westhampton Beach.

When asked what the village should do differently this time compared to previous pushes for a sewer district, Mr. Musnicki responded with one word: education.

“It’s all about the education, educating people as to what the sewer district is all about and what the benefits would be,” he said. “It’s going to be an expensive project, but there is funding and there are grants that weren’t there before that will make it more manageable.”

Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce Vice President Tracie Glover said the idea of a sewer district is welcomed by the entire chamber board and the majority of member businesses, though she said that there is always a group of Main Street business owners who oppose any change, for fear of disrupting the status quo. Ms. Glover said she couldn’t think of any business owners who were vocally against the idea of a sewer district, but she knows support is not unanimous.

“If they sent around a petition, I think a majority of people on Main Street would want more businesses on Main Street,” she said. “But some get nervous about any kind of change to that area.”

During last week’s Village Board meeting, Simon Jorna, owner of the Beach Bakery on Main Street, commended the board for resurrecting the sewer district talks, but he also warned that it would be no “magic bullet.”

Mr. Jorna said he anticipates that sewers would bring a few new businesses, but he questions if the 50,000-gallon-per-day capacity that the village is requesting would be enough to service the second-floor apartments along the corridor. Two of Mr. Jorna’s buildings—the one that houses his bakery, and a neighboring structure that is home to Books & Books—have multiple upstairs apartments.

“It will maybe bring some extra restaurants to Main Street, but there’s no reason why they will be open after summer,” he said. “I think the bigger issue is now that we have a lot of business opportunity off Main Street, on Old Riverhead Road and the new building on Montauk Highway, I think we have to restrict that a little bit so people still have to come to Main Street.”

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The option of Decentralized Small Community Wastewater Treatment Systems should be closely examined. These systems are almost always: Much lower cost than central sewers; they provide high levels of treatment including the ability to reduce Nitrogen; they can be subsurface (recharge groundwater) or surface water discharge; they utilize smaller diameter collection piping thus minimizing infrastructure disruption; and they can be expanded as needed (modular).
By RobertEichinger (1), Locust Valley on Apr 12, 15 11:26 AM
The sewer idea is a good one but why would any buisness want to come here when the Mayor and the board contract everything to buisnesses outside the village. ( ie the beach concessions and the paddle board rentals at the marina)
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Apr 12, 15 7:52 PM
Contracts must be open to all, otherwise there will be deals made to keep them lower than they should be. There is no reason why the locals could not have bid higher.
By tenn tom (259), remsenburg on Apr 13, 15 7:50 AM
That is understood, but they don't have to take the highest bid they can take the best proposal. The higher bid will just lead to higher prices, to recoup the high bid, and cost village taxpayers more money money that now will be spent outside the village since the vendor is from outside.
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Apr 13, 15 10:42 AM