Around East Hampton Town Hall: Funding For Wastewater Management Study Fails

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Funding for an East Hampton townwide wastewater management study failed to gain approval after Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley voted against authorizing a $200,000 bond, a measure that requires a supermajority vote, at a meeting last week.

But the proposal isn’t dead, as Town Board members Sylvia Overby and Dominick Stanzione, who voted in favor of the funding with Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, suggested money already in the budget could be allocated for the plan. That approval would require only three votes, or a simple majority.

Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Quigley voted last Thursday against authorizing a bond for $200,000 to fund a comprehensive wastewater management study by the Massachusetts firm Lombardo Associates, Inc., while Ms. Overby, Mr. Stanzione and Mr. Van Scoyoc voted in favor of the measure. The study would “include an economic and environmental analysis of the town’s wastewater management, a review of the town’s existing scavenger waste facility and options related thereto, and the establishment of a Water Quality Monitoring Program,” according to an April 4 resolution approved by the same three Town Board members that accepted the proposal by the firm.

Since bond authorizations require a supermajority, or four out of five votes, the resolution to approve the funding failed. But the original resolution authorizing the firm to conduct the study, which passed with support from Ms. Overby, Mr. Stanzione and Mr. Van Scoyoc earlier this month, despite opposition from Ms. Quigley, anticipated the project failing to gain funding approval. It noted that the proposal “shall be paid from the appropriate operating, surplus or reserve accounts should funding not be approved as a capital item in the 2013 capital budget.”

Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson this week called the study a “waste of money.” The supervisor said he was in favor of a plan the Town Board agreed on at the end of 2011, which was to pursue negotiations with an outside firm for the privatization of the scavenger waste plant.

“I don’t need to go through a study to realize that any septic system that’s in the ground that is of a certain age should be upgraded,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “I don’t need to go through a study to realize that to have a full-fledged sewage treatment plant for the Town of East Hampton is an asset. I just think it’s a total waste of time, it’s a waste of money, because I’m already there. I think at the same time it’s a delay tactic by some just to inevitably vote to close [the scavenger waste plant] down anyway.”

Ms. Quigley also questioned the process through which Mr. Lombardo’s firm was chosen, noting that she still doesn’t know what criteria was employed to pick him. She also pointed out his history with the town, and that he presented his own product, the Nitrex system, in a pitch to the Town Board at a work session last year. He later served on a town panel about wastewater management, submitted information to the town’s request for qualifications that helped shape its request for proposals (RFP) for a wastewater management plan, and was chosen out of four candidates in the RFP process.

“From my perspective, it looks like a setup,” said Ms. Quigley.

Ms. Overby and Mr. Stanzione defended the selection process. They noted that an independent committee of town officials was set up to choose a firm. “The selection was made by an independent panel,” Mr. Stanzione said. “The RFP process was a public process. Other people who bid on the project have existing relationships, engineering relations with the town. There were no distinctions made on that basis.”

Ms. Overby said it’s important for the town to pursue a comprehensive wastewater management study.

“I think it seems obvious to me that there’s a lot of issues involving our ground and surface waters that need to be addressed,” said Ms. Overby. “And we know from just the past few years that nitrogen loading is affecting our surface waters, in particular, and we know it’s coming from our septic systems … I really feel that a Town Board member is not an expert on these type of issues. We need to hire these experts. We’ve done it in the past. We need to continue to use highly qualified professions that can help us so we don’t waste taxpayer money.”
Support For Erosion Funding
Consensus on the East Hampton Town Board over how to address severe erosion in Montauk’s downtown came down to a battle over semantics last week.

A resolution sponsored by Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc signifying support for a federally funded plan to create an engineered beach, should one become available, sparked much debate after Councilwoman Theresa Quigley suggested amending the final sentence to add one word, “attendant,” to read: “Resolved, that the Town of East Hampton respectfully supports federal funding and attendant coastal engineering resources from the Army Corps of engineers for an engineered beach.”

The suggestion caused a drawn out back-and-forth between Town Board members and Town Attorney John Jilnicki over what the word meant. Mr. Van Scoyoc expressed concern the amendment would tie the town to whatever plan the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designs. He said there was consensus on the resolution at a prior meeting and was “disappointed” by Ms. Quigley’s “last minute” amendment. “It’s really curious to me that we had a full agreement on the wording,” he said.

“Clearly this discussion is bringing forth that we don’t have agreement,” said Ms. Quigley.

Ms. Quigley said she felt the resolution more strongly linked federal funding to coastal engineering resources. “In my head, the resolution had read we’re going to seek support from the Army Corps and we’re going to seek support in terms of federal funding,” Ms. Quigley reflected on Monday. “It didn’t say it was going to be connected.”

The resolution does not preclude the Town Board from hiring a private coastal engineer prior to any plan submitted by the Army Corps of Engineers, said Mr. Jilnicki, responding to a question from Ms. Overby. At a recent work session, Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, presented a letter to the Town Board written by the Group for the East End, Citizens for Access Rights, Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister, The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, Eastern Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and CCOM. The letter urged the Town Board “to follow the example of other coastal communities by immediately seeking the guidance and expertise of a nationally recognized engineering firm with experience in coastal assessment, remediation and the design of engineered beaches.”

It’s unclear exactly whether federal funding would become available for such a project, and if so, when.

“The Army Corps of Engineers is progressing with a plan to implement the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study, which would provide both short-term beach nourishment this year and propose a long-term erosion mitigation solution for Downtown Montauk involving an engineered beach,” according to Oliver Longwell, the communications director for U.S. Representative Tim Bishop. “We are not prepared to announce a timeline yet, but Congressman Bishop is advocating strongly for all Sandy recovery work to be performed at 100-percent federal cost. The input of the Town Board, as well as other community stakeholders, is an important part of the process as the Army Corps develops their proposal.

The Town Board’s discussions about Montauk’s erosion problem has focused on short- and long-term solutions. But the most controversial element of the issue is whether to allow compromised Montauk oceanfront property owners to harden their shorelines on a temporary basis in order to safeguard their structures during emergencies. It has been the source of much debate on the Town Board, with Mr. Van Scoyoc and Ms. Overby hesitant to permit hard structures for fear of what effects they would have on neighboring properties, while Mr. Stanzione, Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson were in support of allowing them on a temporary basis. Moving forward with such a measure would require four votes.

Recently, Mr. Van Scoyoc said he would consider temporary hard structures for shoreline protection “if it’s tied to a sunset” date, and a longer term plan.
Capital Plan Bond Authorizations
The Town Board approved about $2.8 million in bond authorizations for capital projects to pay for new vehicles, a generator for Town Hall, and various equipment and improvements.

The bond authorizations will allow the town to fund a 2013-15 capital budget that the board approved last week. This year’s bond authorizations for capital projects will total about $4.9 million, according to Town Budget Officer Len Bernard. The remaining approximately $2.2 million will be voted on at the May 2 Town Board meeting, Mr. Bernard said.

Among the items approved for bonds include: a $700,000 wood grinder for the Sanitation Department, a $300,000 generator for Town Hall; $250,000 for the reconstruction of various roads; $180,000 for a snowplow with attachments for the Highway Department; $110,000 for three pickup trucks for Buildings and Grounds, with one snowplow; $160,000 for five Town Police vehicles; $160,000 for improvements to the YMCA East Hampton RECenter; and $80,000 for two Marine Patrol vehicles.

Upcoming projects that still need bond authorizations include funding the Safe Routes to School project at Springs School, refurbishing the main Sanitation Department building, replacing the roof at the Highway Department and rebuilding a stairway that was blown away by Hurricane Sandy at Culloden Point in Montauk.

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