What to do with East Hampton’s septic waste—to treat it or transfer it—has circled around again after an analysis of the town’s scavenger waste facility was released last week. In the report, Lombardo Associates, which was hired for the task, said closing the facility, at least seasonally, could save upward of $50,000 a month.
While the idea of saving $600,000 a year is very attractive to Town Board members, they remain cautious about shutting the plant down. Doing so could hurt the cesspool and waste-hauling businesses in town.
If the town were to keep the plant open, either as a transfer station as it is now, or to open it back up as a wastewater treatment facility, it would have to spend a good chunk of change.
But before they make a decision, council members want to have the public’s input.
“There are costs for two of those choices—to the taxpayer and at least directly to the town,” said Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby this week. “But what we need to consider is any cost to the taxpayers, assuming the price may escalate if waste has to be taken out of town.”
The scavenger waste plant had treated septic waste beginning in 1983, but in 2012 it was downscaled to a simple transfer station after the New York Department of Environmental Conservation issued violations for a number of problems between February 2008 and March 2011. The DEC charged that the facility exceeded its permit limit for nitrogen 17 times, for suspended solids 56 times, for mercury twice and for iron twice. Because of that, the DEC limited the facility’s discharge capacity from 45,000 gallons per day on a 12-day rolling average to an average of only 10,000 gallons per day, with the prospect of higher limits if certain improvements were made. Now an annual average of approximately 22,000 gallons comes in daily to be shipped elsewhere.
Local carters drop off their sewage, which is then shipped to treatment plants farther west by a contractor. And because the amount of waste the transfer station can hold has been capped at 10,000 gpd, many waste haulers have adjusted by buying larger trucks and transporting sewage to other facilities where it costs less to deposit each gallon.
Depositing waste at the East Hampton transfer station costs $135 per 1,000 gallons, whereas it costs $99 per 1,000 gallons at the Riverhead scavenger waste plant and $62 per 1,000 gallons at the Bergen Point sewage treatment plant in West Babylon.
Mr. Lombardo said while the East Hampton transfer station receives more per gallon, at 13.5 cents, it actually costs 34.3 cents per gallon to receive the waste, manage it and pay for its removal.
“There’s just no way that can be economically or financially sufficient,” he said.
In addition, a mounting number of repairs need to be made to the plant, and unnecessary practices need to be cut if it is to continue operating, Mr. Lombardo said.
If it were to operate as a 10,000 gpd transfer station and low-cost improvements were made, at least $18,000 could be saved each month, Mr. Lombardo said. The town should discontinue unnecessary waste sampling, reduce its operations to four hours a day, discontinue its soil odor filter fan and equalization tank aeration and replace it with an effective low-cost system as well as preventing rain from falling into the storage tank, according to the report.
The town would have to continue to subsidize the plant with an annual subsidy of $500,000 to be competitive with the Riverhead and Bergen Point facilities, however.
Another option would be to completely upgrade the facility to make it a state-of-the-art wastewater management plant, but such a feat would cost upward of $5.2 million, Mr. Lombardo said. Doing that would continue to cost the town—the upkeep would be at least $1 million each year, causing the cost for waste haulers to increase to 17.1 cents per gallon or $171 per 1,000 gallons, which is a non-competitive price, he said.
Danielle Quackenbush of Quackenbush Cesspools said her company has adjusted to the loss of the waste treatment facility and wouldn’t go back, even if it were upgraded back to a scavenger waste plant.
“If they shut the doors it would probably be better off,” she said this week, explaining that many companies bought bigger trucks and make the long haul to Riverhead or Bergen Point. “To put a lot into keeping the [scavenger waste facility] open will not make me go back,” she said. “We changed our whole business to run [waste] out of town.”
She said 17 cents would be a lot to pay for a septic or cesspool company and that companies would have to adjust their prices to match the cost, but no one would pay that much.
Quackenbush uses the transfer station here and there, she said, especially when there are septic tank emergencies, but the majority of its waste goes to Bergen Point or Clear-Flo in Lindenhurst.
“If I depended on East Hampton, I would’ve been out of business a long time ago,” she said.
She said closing the plant would save money, and that money could go toward a town rebate program to fund upgrades to aging septic systems.
Ms. Quackenbush’s idea is in line with Mr. Lombardo’s idea that money saved could go toward water quality improvements.
Kim Shaw, the director of the East Hampton Town Natural Resources Department, said she would like the savings to be used to help eliminate the discharge that flows into the south end of Lake Montauk.
Fred Nero, who has worked for almost 26 years as the operator of the plant, said the future of the transfer station should not be based on whether or not the Town makes a profit off of it.
“Why does it have to make money?” he said. “Their best hope is to break even. Town hall spends money, the parks department spends money and the highway department spends money. Why do I have to make a profit down there?”
If the station closes, Mr. Nero’s job would be at stake.
Closing the facility would also hurt some hauling companies, like J&J Cesspool Services in Montauk.
“[Closing the facility] would close my company,” said co-owner Jason Libath. “We are based out of Montauk and to go all the way to Riverhead is not in the cards.”
The company, owned and run by Mr. Libath and John DeSousa, is only three years old and runs its collected sewage to the East Hampton transfer station each week, especially during the summer, when they deposit about 12,000 to 15,000 gallons a week there.
He said he’d like to see the facility operational again, so that it makes money.
“The town needs this transfer station and Montauk—everybody forgets about Montauk,” he added.
Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said cases like J&J Cesspool will be taken into consideration, but that the potential savings in closing the plant is intriguing.
“I think the Town Board needs to come to a conclusion,” he said. “Saving the taxpayers $600,000 a year is very compelling, provided we find a way to ensure that scavenger waste is safely disposed and treated.”
He said there are many towns, like Southampton and Southold, that do not have a scavenger waste plant or transfer station and ship their waste to Riverhead or Bergen Point.
Ms. Overby, the sewage treatment liaison, said if the board decides to shut down the plant it will happen slowly.
“I’m talking up to a year,” she said. “It would still be considered a transfer station and we would let the carters and haulers have time to understand what is happening if that’s the choice the Town Board has to make.”
She said she would like to see the town implement a “smart scavenger waste plant,” with all the newest technologies, because sewage and failing septic systems are an ongoing issue.
“I do feel the need for East Hampton to understand its own waste system and have a way to deal with it without having to go to another community,” she added. “It’s the big distance that concerns me. Riverhead is capable of taking waste but in the big picture, 10 to 20 years from now, maybe it’s not so good.”