Suffolk in line for $388M sewer project

Sen. Charles Schumer was point man in getting FEMA funding for a $388 million Suffolk clean water initiative.

Consider it a silver lining to some of Long Island’s darkest clouds.

In what’s being proffered as a response to the historic flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy, $388 million in state and federal funds will flow into Suffolk County to expand sanitary service to over 8,000 parcels of land currently utilizing on-site septic systems.

The coastal resiliency initiative, approved by FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, is a major victory for lawmakers and activists who have long struggled to expand Suffolk’s sewer capacity.

“This funding allows Suffolk County to improve and expand its sewer system in a way that not only reduces threats to water quality and contamination, but also strengthens Long Island’s coast to better withstand future storms,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

It also opens the floodgates on revitalization efforts that long predate the 2012 superstorm.

“The fact that a significant chunk of this is going toward the Mastic and Shirley community is very significant,” Vision Long Island Director Eric Alexander told Innovate LI. “For the state and federal governments to step forward – with Chuck Schumer, primarily, getting this done – is a very big deal for these communities.

“People have been working to redevelop the Montauk Highway region for years, and sewers have always been the missing piece to that equation,” Alexander added. “This is key to that revitalization effort.”

While new sewers will certainly provide a commercial boost, the primary purpose of the $388 million project – with funding coming from various emergency-mitigation sources – is to strengthen Long Island against another direct-hit superstorm. Noting that Sandy “revealed just how vulnerable Suffolk County residents are to flooding and contamination,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, heralded the dawn of a “modern sewage infrastructure” for county residents.

“We asked FEMA and HUD to provide over $300 million … to help with the Suffolk sewers,” Schumer said. “These federal funds will … improve water quality, preserve vital wetlands and make Suffolk more resistant if, God forbid, another Sandy occurs.”

More than 70 percent of Suffolk residents rely on on-site septic systems. At the height of the 2012 superstorm, many individual septic systems were flooded by rising groundwater, creating public health hazards including water contamination and nitrogen pollution from failing cesspools. Miles of coastal wetlands were also eroded.

The mitigation project, which will address many of these issues, will start with a $24.2 million design and environmental review phase funded by a New York State Environmental Facilities Corp. revolving fund and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s disaster recovery program.

The design phase will create a master plan including cost estimates, timetables, technical specifications and a detailed cost-benefits analysis. The general idea is to connect roughly 3,500 new residential customers, over 70 new commercial customers and roughly 180 other “non-vacant parcels” to existing water conveyances and treatment systems through new collection systems in the Carlls River, Connetquot River and Patchogue River watershed areas, according to the governor’s office.

The plan will also include a new water-collection and conveyance system for the Forge River watershed, linking an additional 2,100 residential, commercial and other users to a new wastewater treatment plant to be built at Brookhaven Calabro Airport in Shirley. Another 2,200 residential properties will be added to existing systems terminating at the treatment plant at Bergen Point.

The planning and environmental review will be followed by a $364.3 million construction phase, funded by the same state and federal programs.

“There are 45,000 people on that peninsula who want to see more restaurants and more activity on their Main Street, and they can’t have that without new sewers,” Alexander said.

“This will fix that,” he added. “And it’s a long time coming.