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Jun 12, 2018 10:02 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Village Board Faces Questions Regarding Proposed Sewer District and Main Street Renovation

Simon Jorna addresses Westhampton Beach Village Board on Thursday night. ELSIE BOSKAMP
Jun 12, 2018 2:40 PM

The Westhampton Beach Village Board faced a slew of questions and concerns regarding a proposed Main Street improvement and sewer district project at its meeting on Thursday, June 7.

The proposed project has been in the works for years and is set to include the installation of sewers in the village’s downtown business district, as well as pumps and more than 2.6 miles of pressurized piping that would carry the raw sewage to a treatment plant at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach. Suffolk County, which owns the airport, has agreed to treat up to 60,000 gallons of effluent each day at the existing plant for the village, which means a new plant would not be necessary.

The Main Street renovation also includes plans related to enhancing stormwater management and will include restructuring the street, repaving roadways and sidewalks, and burying utility lines.

Discussions were sparked at the meeting after the board adopted a “negative declaration” for the improvement project, an action required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, that determines that the construction will not cause any long-term negative environmental impacts. The board also amended a contract with H2M Architects + Engineers, the Melville based firm overseeing the project.

Simon Jorna, owner of Beach Bakery Grand Café, asked board members how they intend to keep businesses open throughout the construction, how much the project would cost residents and business owners, and why certain properties bordering the sewer district are not included in the plans.

“I’m totally for the plan—I think it has to be done, I think it should’ve been done earlier. But you guys have to really consider the merchants. How are they going to stay open?” asked Mr. Jorna, who recently spent upward of $500,000 on an individual septic system for the bakery, which would have to be dismantled when the sewer project begins. “I am very concerned about the way it is proposed.”

Mr. Jorna noted that several buildings that use a substantial amount of water—the Chamber of Commerce office and attached public bathrooms, located just next to the bakery; the Grassmere Inn, located on Beach Lane; and Sydney’s “Taylor” Made Cuisine, located on Mill Road—will not be included in the new sewer plan.

“It just makes no sense to me,” he said.

According to Mayor Maria Moore, the 60,000-gallon cap has limited the number of homes and businesses that can be attached to the new system. The four-phase project, which she said will help to curb the amount of nitrogen leaking into the groundwater and entering the bay, was designed to incorporate “the more sensitive areas, closest to the water.”

Homes and businesses that fall inside the proposed sewer district will be expected to pay for 70 percent of the estimated $16.75 million cost, while those falling outside of the proposed boundaries will pay the remaining 30 percent. Initial costs will be based on assessed property values; future costs will be based on water usage.

In an effort to reduce the cost on taxpayers, the board is in the process of applying for several grants, including state clean water and infrastructure improvement grants, and the Southampton Town Community Preservation Fund’s new water quality component, expect to hear back this fall.

Michael Nobiletti, a village resident, also expressed concerns at the meeting about whether the village is, in fact, eligible for such state grants.

In a letter sent to the DEC, a copy of which was provided to The Press by Mr. Nobiletti, he noted that Moniebogue Bay in Westhampton Beach—which is thought to be polluted by nitrogen flowing into the water from the businesses on Main Street—is contaminated with pathogens, not specifically nitrogen, according to the revised 2016 Priority Water List cited in the letter.

“We are an impaired water body. As far as I’m concerned, we have it in writing from [the DEC] that we’re on that list,” Ms. Moore said in response. She also noted, “We’ve spoken with the town and the grant writer, and they’re both very confident that we’ll get some CPF money.”

According to a report complied for the village in June 2017 by Dr. Christopher Gobler, a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, the watersheds of Moniebogue Bay, Quantuck Bay and Moriches Bay have all been declared “impaired” by the DEC.

The report concludes that phase one of the proposed sewer project would redirect 5,000 pounds of nitrogen away from Monibogue Bay each year, which would reduce its total nitrogen levels by 24 percent.

Although Mr. Nobiletti is supportive of securing grant money to fund the project, he said he is skeptical of how H2M Architects + Engineers is advising the board. “Being patient doesn’t mean that I sit by and watch something that really shouldn’t happen,” he told the board. “Fine, apply for the grant, but I’m just saying that you’re not a candidate for the grant, and you’ve paid perhaps a quarter million to find out that you’re not.”

As of this week, the village has paid $150,000 for a design report and $60,000 for a map and plan.

Additional concerns where presented to the board by longtime village resident Bob Trager, who said he worries about increasing taxes, as well as Main Street businesses being damaged and sustaining foundation cracks as a result of the construction.

“We feel, that this sewage system has been shoved down our throat, and it’s making it harder and harder for me, for us, to live in this town, because the taxes are going up,” Mr. Trager said to the board. He also expressed frustration about not being able to vote on the proposed project via referendum.

In response to many of the questions, the board members said they were working closely with the engineers and would be able to give more specific answers in the coming months, when they begin working with a contractor.

“All that stuff is being considered,” Village Trustee Steve Frano said. “I just can’t give you specifics about it now, because I don’t have that information.”

Ms. Moore noted that when she has the design plans, she will make them available online and will hold a public hearing. According to Ms. Moore, construction is still expected to begin in the late fall—and, she added, that she is not opposed to starting the work in November or December if necessary.

“We’re basing the timeline on what the engineers are predicting,” Village Board member Brian Tymann said. “I think we have to hear from the contractor to say what is possible, what isn’t, and then we’ll make that decision on whether to start or not.”

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