Suffolk County will study the prospect of installing high-tech wastewater treatment systems in Orient to replace cesspools and septic tanks buried throughout the hamlet.
If the project comes to fruition, it will be a first for a pre-existing Suffolk community. Some new developments have included the systems, which remove nitrogen before releasing effluent into the ground.
Scientists blame nitrogen pollution from cesspools and septic tanks for fueling the algal blooms degrading water quality and harming marine life across Long Island.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement that combating nitrogen pollution is his administration's top priority and "the greatest environmental challenge" facing the county.
Orient, at the tip of the North Fork, sits in an environmentally sensitive position within the Peconic and Long Island Sound estuaries.
The county has allocated $60,050 for an engineering report on the costs and feasibility of installing nitrogen-treatment systems in Orient.
"The whole point is to try to get a pilot working model so it becomes an option for towns and communities," said Glynis Berry, executive director of Peconic Green Growth, a Riverhead nonprofit that will conduct the study. "And we may fail. It may be just too big a leap for people, but you don't know until you try."
Berry said the study will focus on "clustered" systems that collect waste from multiple properties at a central location where equipment can remove 75 percent to 90 percent of nitrogen. Suffolk officials have said the East End may benefit from those smaller systems in lieu of sewers.
Berry said she expects her nonprofit and an engineering firm to complete the study in a year to 15 months.