Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy, GOP nominee for county executive, attacked Executive Steve Bellone’s plan seeking $4 billion in new revenue over 50 years to fund high tech residential sewage treatment systems, and charged he has raided existing environmental funds to meet payroll costs.
“We need to deal with our gaping fiscal hole and put our house in order before we start talking about spending $4 billion to build new castles in the air,” said Kennedy, in an interview after a news conference at Blue Point's Corey Beach, recently closed over pollution issues.
Kennedy’s attack came after the county health department Tuesday put forward the subwatersheds wastewater plan to combat nitrogen pollution in Suffolk’s bays and estuaries. Bellone and county experts have blamed those woes on cesspools and septic systems that do little to remove nitrates. The new plan calls for creating a recurring, but unspecified $50-70 million annual funding stream — to help homeowners with grants and loans to install the new systems that cost about $20,000 plus maintenance. Suffolk has 360,000 homes that are now unsewered.
“This is rich coming from a career politician who has done nothing to solve the water quality crisis,” said Marykate Guilfoyle, a Bellone spokeswoman. “It’s time for the comptroller to stop playing politics with clean water and sabotaging the county’s efforts to protect water quality.”
Leading environmentalists also praised Bellone’s new plan. Kevin McDonald, a local policy adviser for the Nature Conservancy, called the plan a “blueprint for healthier waters on Long Island.” He said the problem — generations in the making — “can recover, if we make the necessary investments … now.”
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, “This … landmark plan identifies a realistic path we can follow that will result in healthy, productive marine ecosystems,” adding “The challenges are funding, the political will and public engagement.”
However, Kennedy also questioned whether some Innovative Alternative systems will meet standards. “Even by their own admission their enhanced septic systems are not operating properly,” he said. “At least get the technology correct before you codify the thing.”
Kennedy also charged Bellone has raided nearly $30 million in the county’s quarter-cent water quality program by diverting what is popularly known as “477 funding” for capital projects to improve water quality and is instead using it for unrelated payroll expenses to help balance the budget.
But Guilfoyle said the use of water quality funds for staffing went before the county legislature for approval, and Kennedy, as a former lawmaker “voted repeatedly” to do so. She said the comptroller should explain why he approved using these funds "for purposes voters never authorized.”
Kennedy conceded he sometimes voted for personnel, but only for jobs like design engineer, connected to capital projects. “They have filled positions that have nothing to do with groundwater protection, including a guy cutting grass on the golf course,” he said.