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Suffolk plan to require commercial sewage upgrades

Kevin McAllister, founder of Defend H2O, seen in

Kevin McAllister, founder of Defend H2O, seen in 2016, welcomes updates to wastewater treatment guidelines for businesses. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A proposed Suffolk law would require businesses without sewers that expand or redevelop parcels to upgrade their wastewater treatment systems, closing a loophole that had allowed them to discharge untreated wastewater based on past usage.

A Newsday/News 12 investigation in December found that every year the county issues permits to dozens of commercial sites that allow developers to construct new buildings, add restaurant space and build condominium complexes based on measurements of sewage flows that sometimes were decades old.

The proposed law would require commercial developments that are expanding or rebuilding after two years of being shut down to use new advanced wastewater treatment systems, which remove nitrogen from the water.

Kevin McAllister, founder of Defend H2O, an environmental conservation organization based in Sag Harbor, said the changes would prevent “egregious” approvals, such as construction of waterfront condominiums in Hampton Bays based on sewage flows from a motel that had closed nine years earlier.

“Better treatment should be expected with redevelopment. Revisions to the grandfathering provisions will achieve this goal,” McAllister said.

Walter Dawydiak, director of Suffolk’s Division of Environmental Quality, told the county legislature’s environment committee that current policies were based on an interpretation of a 1981 law, which found the sewage flow was attached to the land.

If approved, the proposed measure would go into effect Jan. 1. The proposal, which also includes changes to cesspool requirements, was tabled Monday and is scheduled to be heard again in committee later this month.

Dawydiak estimated that about 20 commercial projects a year would have to upgrade their wastewater systems under the proposed law.

Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack) said, “eliminating grandfathering is a really exciting revision whose time has certainly come. For many years now, commercial properties have been permitted to rely on outdated septic flow limits without really much exception.”

Mitchell Pally, chief executive officer of the Long Island Builders Institute, said the industry group supported the changes. The institute said the county Health Department’s interpretation of the 1981 law “had unintended consequences, such as projects being built without the proper waste water treatment systems to support them.”

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