Rallying for sewers

IB/Chalifoux

Rallying for sewers

Story By: RICK CHALIFOUX
4/21/2016


ISLIP TOWN—On Sunday, a crowd of local residents, community leaders, and elected officials gathered together at a rally inside St. John’s Campus in Oakdale. The goal of the event – created by local nonprofit organization Save the Great South Bay – was to generate momentum by urging state and county officials to secure funding in order to reroute a proposed sewer line south from the Ronkonkoma Hub project through the South Shore communities of Sayville, West Sayville, Oakdale and over to Great River.

So far, over 1,200 signatures have also been collected for an official petition to bring sewers to those low-lying areas. The petition states that sewers would serve as a valuable investment in the region by helping to revitalize the fishing and shellfishing industry, enhance water and beach recreation, bring more summer tourists, and raise property values.

At the rally, Save the Great South Bay executive director Marshall Brown noted that pollutants stemming from septic pools (360,000 in Suffolk alone) and lawn fertilizers regularly make their way into our drinking water and towards the bay, elevating nitrogen levels and having a severely negative impact on water quality and marine life. He stated that better water quality would allow for much greater amounts of oysters and clams to be reintroduced into the bay.

“We are in a moment of crisis here,” said Brown, who grew up in Sayville. “We’ve lost 90 percent of our marshes since 1930. By 2030, if we do nothing, we’ll lose all of our marshes and our fisheries.”

Brown said that by installing sewers in the area, “we stand a fighting chance of bringing back the shellfish industry” – particularly oysters. He noted that every oyster filters 50 gallons of water daily, while every acre of oysters generates $100,000 in gross annual revenue. Therefore, a substantial shellfish population would function as a natural filter for the bay while also stimulating economic growth through fishing.

“This pipe is important both environmentally and economically,” he said. “We need to build a sustainable Long Island. We need jobs for people and we need to restore our heritage.” 

Brown acknowledged that while the task ahead would likely be costly in the short term, the alternative would be more economically destructive down the road.

“This is not a small task…but think of the cost of doing nothing,” said Brown. “Real estate prices will go like that…Time is of the essence here.”

Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt was in attendance, along with representatives from the offices of NYS Senators Tom Croci and Phil Boyle. Bergin Weichbrodt has been at the forefront of the group of local elected officials who continue to push for the extension of a sewer pipeline linking the proposed $475-million Ronkonkoma Hub to Oakdale, West Sayville, and Sayville towards Great River, which could provide an alternative option.

While the funding is already locked up for the first route (through Islandia), the alternative route would cost more than double the current estimated cost of $24 million up to about $55 million. Despite the substantial cost increase, Bergin Weichbrodt said that it should instead be viewed as an investment, noting that the new plan would produce long-term benefits that could help improve the region both economically and environmentally.

“It’s going to cost twice the amount of money, [but] it’s the right thing to do,” said Bergin Weichbrodt, who led a press conference last March to publicly propose the new plan. “We’re an island that very much depends on our waterfront in order to continue to grow our economy. It’s why people live here; it’s why they vacation here, and why they want to eat at certain restaurants on the waterfront. So our economy and our real estate values very much depend on making sure that our water quality is healthy.”

Bergin Weichbrodt said that there are “several” other plans in the works to bring sewers to the area, but that the assembled bipartisan group (also including County Executive Steve Bellone, Legislator Bill Lindsay, and Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino) is continually working to secure the necessary funding and make the idea a reality.

“When I got everyone together, I said that as long as we’re all on the same page here and we’re dedicated to getting this done, then this will come to fruition,” she said. “So we all agreed this is the right way to go. It’s just a matter of coming up with the funding to make sure that the South Shore is sewered.”

Community leader Ron Beattie, who partnered with Save the Great South Bay for the rally, thanked everyone in attendance and commended all of those involved for their efforts.

“We’re very fortunate in our area to have very responsive elected officials,” noted Beattie. “And it’s not a partisan issue here. This is something we know is best for our community.” 

To learn more and sign the Save the Great South Bay petition, visit www.change.org/p/steven-bellone-run-the-sewer-pipe-through-sayville-west-sayville-and-oakdale.