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Steve Bellone administration offers to ease rules for failing cesspools

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announces the provisional

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announces the provisional approval of the Norweco Singulair TNT, the second advanced on-site wastewater treatment system for residential use for in Suffolk County, during a press conference at Roman Stone in Bay Shore, Dec. 13, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

The administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone offered Monday to ease proposed rules for replacement of failing cesspools to get its ambitious effort to combat nitrogen in groundwater underway.

Deputy County Executive Peter Scully said the administration would file four changes aimed at easing the cost of the initiative. The administration wants the full county legislature to approve the plan at its Dec. 19 meeting.

The proposed changes surfaced in the legislature’s environment and planning committee. Last Monday, the 12-member Democratic legislative majority had huddled with Bellone aides over the issue of high costs that the county estimates could eventually affect as many as to 366,000 homeowners with aging cesspools.

Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, GOP caucus leader, said he has not seen the proposed changes but expressed concern they will not go far enough.

“We want to deal with the environmental issue, but it can’t be an onerous and a heavy burden on homeowners,” said McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst).

The original proposal required homeowners to replace cesspools with septic tanks after two failures beginning Jan. 1, 2019. It also established for the first time a permit system for new septic systems.

Health officials said the plan would affect 5,000 to 9,000 homeowners annually. Industry officials put the cost at between $2,000 to $4,000 for replacement cesspools. Industry and county officials said it would cost homeowners an additional $2,000 to install a septic tank.

The new amendments would change the definition of cesspool failure from more than two pump outs a year to four. Also, the measures would eliminate the requirement that such cesspools be replaced, thereby allowing continued pump outs.

The amendments also would delay requiring homeowners to obtain a permit for replacement cesspools from Jan. 1, 2019 to July 1, 2019. The proposals also exempt homeowners in high-priority areas for connection to the Southwest Sewer District, which could protect low-income homeowners.

The environment committee voted to discharge Bellone’s original proposal to the full legislature without recommendation. Committee members planned to review the administration’s proposed changes that were expected to be filed with the legislative clerk’s office by the end of Monday.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said committee members were giving the administration “the benefit of the doubt. But we still have to see the specifics and make sure there are no unintended consequences.”

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