A letter to the Great River community

A letter to the Great River community

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I am writing this to encourage Great River residents to vote yes on your Jan. 22 sewer vote. The beauty of the project is that construction costs are paid for with federal funds. These one-time federal funds cannot be used in the future if sewers are voted down. Residents will see a marked increase in the value of your homes, which sewers invariably do. What you will pay is $65 a month for sewer service and loan debt.  This sewer vote will be a win for the Great South Bay and a huge win for Great River residents.

The construction of a free water infrastructure will bring cleaner water to your shores and add value to your home. Regionally, you will also be the spark for the sewers we need to save the Great South Bay. Indeed, if the ballot is approved, we will undertake our first community water quality improvement project in 40 years. Others will soon follow, like my town in Sayville,  to protect and restore our water quality, everyone will eventually need to upgrade to modern sewage treatment standards. The beauty of the Great River project is that it’s paid for with federal funds.  Free now or very expensive later is a fair way to look at it.

Seventy then and 70 now is a good way to consider the environmental benefits. The Great South Bay first brought Europeans and later New York City people to ply its bountiful harvest of shellfish and sea life.  Many historians estimate that 70 percent of the nation’s clams were harvested from the Great South Bay back then. Today, experts agree that nearly 70 percent of the nitrates that kill our bay come from toilets.  It is ironic, but true, that the most helpful action we can take to prevent the bay from becoming a sewer is to put in a sewer system.  

Here are the basic facts for your Jan. 22 sewer vote:

  1. Federal funding will be lost if the referendum vote this January is not approved.
  2. One-time federal funds reduce the original annual charge from $2,000 to $660 per year.
  3. Construction is 100 percent funded by federal funds.
  4. The majority of the nitrates in the Great South Bay and Connetquot River—which cause the brown, red, rust tides that cause fish kills and declining clam populations—are due to untreated waste.
  5. Being near water adds value to one’s home. Polluted waters undercut this benefit.
  6. Private property construction includes: low-pressure pump station installation, installation of sewer lines, abandonment of old septic tanks/cesspools, electrical connection and property restoration.
  7. Annual debt service to residential homes on average $119.

Nature on her own cannot return the Great South Bay to its former grandeur.  A bold clam harvesting effort was undertaken by the Nature Conservancy in the Great South Bay. There were 250 million (a quarter-billion!) pinkie-nail sized clams spawned from the effort. The objective?  Restoring the Great South Bay with clams that filter our waters would clean the bay.  Clammers came out of the woodwork to help, dreaming of the bountiful harvests of their youth.  We were excited! Then we had a bad set of years, followed by brown tide and other harmful algae blooms fueled by nitrogen from sewage. The clams were wiped out.  Decimated. To effectuate a real solution, it will take both nature and engineering.  

Sewers are a critical component of restoring the Great South Bay. For each dollar of revenue paid into the water and sewer industry, the annual increase in revenue that occurs in other industries is $2.62. Sewers are even more valuable in the long term. For each dollar spent on a sewer, private economic output increases in the long term by $6.35.

One can look locally for how sewers help a community. Patchogue Village was on its last leg in the mid-1990s.  Yet from 2000-2017, Patchogue has generated $693 million in economic growth. None of it would’ve been possible without sewers. Sewering is so vital to their future that Patchogue just doubled its sewer capacity. Patchogue’s revitalization is a model of how local, can-do thinking can save and reinvent a great village.

I don’t aspire for my town, Sayville, to become a restaurant mecca. I suspect Great River residents feel exactly the same way. Yet I dream of bringing back the Great South Bay I came to love when I worked as a teen on the Sayville Ferries. And Great River can provide the spark that all towns east of that hamlet need to reinvent.

All points east of East Islip need better water management. Oakdale’s long-neglected flooding problems, which can be toxic when factoring in untreated sewage, continue due to government inaction.  And according to a Town of Islip study of 150 or so water monitoring stations in the town, Sayville has the highest nitrate load.  Yet not so long ago, in the 1970s, getting South Shore kids to show up for summer sports practice was impossible. We were too busy earning real money clamming. Legend has it you could walk from Long Island’s shores to Fire Island, walking from boat to boat.  Our nautical history on the Great South Bay makes our home special.  Let Great River be the place that turns the tide our way.  Vote yes on Great River’s sewers.


Editor’s note: Bertsch is a Sayville resident and a member of the Sayville Civic Association.