Suffolk County’s biggest sewer expansion isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution
Suffolk County will inaugurate its largest sewer expansion in decades later this month. The two long-awaited Babylon and Mastic projects will cost around $ 400 million to connect more than 4,200 homes to public sewers.
JD Allen of the WSHU explored why Suffolk County wants to upgrade their sanitation systems in our new climate podcast, Higher ground. In a lengthy interview, he spoke to the man in charge of upgrades: Pierre Scully, Suffolk County Deputy Director for Administration, also known as the Water Quality Czar.
PS: As that would imply, my responsibilities are very broad. This county executive is the very first to tackle the larger Suffolk County issue that developed in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Without sewer infrastructure, one of the things that makes us very different from our neighbor to the west, Nassau County is primarily sewers, about 75% sewers; Suffolk County, on the other hand, is around 75% sewer-free, which has had significant implications both for the degradation of water quality and also constrains our economy as the lack of water infrastructure. Sanitation places limits on what homeowners can do with their property, and that is particularly problematic in city centers, which are struggling economically.
It is high time the government understood that we need a long term infrastructure plan. And finally, we do.
WSHU: If we want to make our communities sustainable, especially in our inner cities, where there are businesses and hopefully people, we need to be able to rework those inner cities by giving them a sewer or a sort of wastewater management plan. So we can either renovate and build, and that can include housing, affordable housing, maybe in addition to restaurants, businesses, and retail.
PS: Exactly. So this is the vision and many historic town centers in Suffolk County, and in many places where we have community vision and planning going on, and people come together to discuss and decide what they think. to be the best for the future, their community, and inevitably, the pivot of their future vision is to have sewerage, or some sort of wastewater treatment infrastructure both to protect the environment, and also to allow some kind of economic development in the community which cannot take place at this stage because there is no sewer infrastructure.
WSHU: Everyone wants a solution that best suits their home. And that means when the county works with them, you have a lot of different stakeholders who have potentially different opinions on how different communities are able to respond.
PS: It’s absolutely true. And no solution can succeed if it is not supported by the community. And that is really the importance of community planning. So our model in Suffolk has been inclusive, to work with individual communities recognizing how different they are, recognizing their needs and concerns, and ultimately, to bring together a very unique coalition. You know, for the very first time in history, we have environmental groups, local governments, business, labor, and the building trades all coming together to row in the same direction. For the implementation of a long-term infrastructure plan for wastewater. It is truly a unique moment in history.
WSHU: The county has invested a lot of money in sewers. But it’s a slow process because it really means overhauling a lot of those city centers, slowing down business, etc.
PS: It’s the fact that for many parts of Suffolk County, a sewer will never be a practical or cost-effective solution to the wastewater problem simply because of the densities of development in many suburban and rural suburban communities. We have, you know, a house for a few acres, the cost for each house to hook up to the sewer will be well over $ 100,000. It is just not a cost effective approach. And so, although there are many areas in Suffolk County where we are pursuing remediation primarily near an existing treatment plant and have capacity available with development density, so you can reasonably invest in sewers and connect people. There are also large areas of our county where sanitation will never be a realistic solution.
In Episode 3, Higher Ground tells stories of how Long Island is improving its wastewater treatment, including new sewers, advanced septic systems, and seashell restoration.
These are larger municipal projects, they require a large investment, they are generally not viable unless we have some form of subsidy to make sewers more affordable for individual homeowners.
On the other hand, at least for now, with the subsidy programs, we have put in place for the installation of AI programs, you know, nitrogen-reducing septic tanks, which are an alternative to sewers, which can replace them, you know, very primitive cesspools that’s in the ground right now. We are really at a point in our program now, where participation depends on an individual owner’s decision that this is a step they want to take and are ready to take a certain level of. investment as well as a grant available to do our part. to improve the environment.
It will never work unless it’s easy and affordable for homeowners trying to make it easy and affordable for them. We are seeing, as you know, that people are embracing change.