Suffolk eyes sewer extension to Ronkonkoma Hub

An architect's rendering projecting what the existing LIRR An architect's rendering projecting what the existing LIRR parking garage could look like upon the completion of the Ronkonkoma Hub project. Photo Credit: TRITECH Development Group

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Suffolk officials for the first time are looking to expand the reach of the mammoth Southwest Sewer District seven miles beyond its eastern edge to hook up to the planned $475-million Ronkonkoma Hub project in Brookhaven.

"With the analysis we have now, it's the best preference," said County Executive Steve Bellone, who has made sewers a top priority. "The Ronkonkoma Hub is a critical project . . . and the Southwest Sewer District plant is a regional resource. In that sense, it is a perfect fit."

Such a connection would scrap a proposed on-site $25 million sewage treatment plant in Ronkonkoma, where treated wastewater would be discharged into the groundwater. Instead, the county would build a pump station and run a pair of pipelines -- costing $20 million to $22 million -- from Ronkonkoma to the former Central Islip State Psychiatric Center, where it would tie into the sewer district. The sewage would be treated at the Bergen Point plant in West Babylon and treated wastewater would be discharged three miles into the Atlantic Ocean.

Public works officials say a pipeline would save at least $2 million to $3 million in construction costs. It also would cut the 18- to 24-month construction time by six months while protecting the county underground drinking water supply, they say. The benefits "make it a no-brainer," said Gil Anderson, public works commissioner.

The new pipeline also would permit connections along the route, spurring additional economic development. It also would eliminate the need to legally create a separate sewer district, which backers say could be time-consuming.

The 50-acre hub, dubbed by planners as a project of regional significance because of its nearness to the Ronkonkoma train station, is expected to have 1,450 apartments, up to 195,000 square feet of retail space and 360,000 square feet of office and medical facilities.

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"It gives us more certainty," said Robert Coughlan, principal of TRITEC Real Estate Co. which is developing the Hub. "It also saves time and as you know, time can kill." He said the firm expects to have its first 400 apartments open in 2016.

The plan for the new pipeline is similar to one that runs beyond the district border up Route 110 into Huntington where businesses, including the Canon corporate headquarters and the Walt Whitman Shops, are connected and pay sewage fees by contract.

The Southwest Sewer District -- by far the largest of Suffolk's nearly two dozen sewer districts -- serves more than 70,000 homes in Babylon and Islip from Amityville to Great River, south of Southern State Parkway. The $640 million sewer district, once racked by scandal in 1970s, was the last county sewer plant built largely with federal funds. It has turned into a major regional asset that can handle 30 million gallons of sewage daily and is being enlarged to treat 10 million gallons a day more.

"It's a solution that makes sense," said Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine. "People flush today and four days later it will make it to the sewer plant."

Romaine also said a new pipeline could reach new areas in Islip not already sewered and go even further into Brookhaven. "We could have a spine of a sewer system for the future," he said.Trish Bergin Weichbrodt, Islip town board member, said she wants to make sure the plan would not affect earlier ones to hook up Long Island-MacArthur Airport and nearby industrial areas. She also said she would like to see expansion to Oakdale or Sayville. "That would be a win-win for everyone," she said.

Adrienne Esposito, executive of Citizen Campaign for the Environment, called the move a "more eco-friendly and cost effective solution," but added the county should study the impact of removing as much as 1 million gallons a day from the acquifer without replenishing it, something public works officials say they will consider.

"We need to know the impact on tributaries, rivers and even Lake Ronkonkoma," she said. "It's better to get the information ahead of time than be surprised later."

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