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Kings Park landlord faces EPA fine over cesspools

A commercial building at 112-122 Main St., Kings

A commercial building at 112-122 Main St., Kings Park, on Saturday.  Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

A Kings Park commercial landlord faces up to $286,586 in Environmental Protection Agency penalties for banned large-scale cesspools at his Main Street strip mall.

In a May 2 letter to landlord Frank Viteritti of Huntington, the EPA said March inspections of the building at the Pulaski Road intersection found that five of the six businesses there had cesspools but lacked wastewater treatment systems or septic tanks. An inspection report for Park Bake Shop noted it had cesspools but did not specify if it had treatment systems. Bakery owner Gabe Shtanko said he had a grease trap, equipment intended to capture grease and oils for separate disposal.

Most cesspools consist of buried concrete containers with open bottoms and perforated sides that store and drain wastewater. EPA classes nonresidential cesspools capable of serving more than 20 per day as large-capacity cesspools. They were ordered to be closed by 2005 under federal law.

The EPA “has been working with Suffolk County Department of Health to identify and eliminate large-capacity cesspools and we were informed of the property in Kings Park as part of this process,” an agency representative wrote in an email. Department of Health spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern wrote in an email that regional pollution from "legacy nonconforming commercial sanitary systems" including cesspools is "much less significant" than pollution from residential systems. Nevertheless, she wrote, commercial pollution is "not negligible, and can be locally significant."

Viteritti said his building had not been modified since it was built 40 or 50 years ago. His tenants are required to pay for modifications under their leases, he said. Both he and his tenants would be hard-pressed to pay for construction of alternative disposal systems, he said. “If they impose that on my tenants, I’ll lose all my tenants.” He has hired a lawyer and an engineer to review the matter, he said.

"EPA is willing to provide the time needed to comply," the representative wrote. The agency's "primary objective is compliance with environmental regulations, not the collection of penalties." 

The letter said wastewater in cesspools can contain potentially dangerous substances, such as phosphates, chlorides, viruses and other chemicals.

“Cesspools are not designed to treat sanitary waste and cesspool wastewaters often contain higher levels of nitrates and coliform bacteria than are permitted in drinking water,” the EPA representative wrote.

Downtown Kings Park is unsewered, and Kings Park Chamber of Commerce president Tony Tanzi said he worried that other property owners could be exposed to penalties. “I would imagine there are other businesses on Main Street and all over Long Island” that have difficulty building EPA-sanctioned alternatives to cesspools, especially on downtown sites with little open space, he said.

Besides sewers, alternatives to large-capacity cesspools include septic systems, holding tanks and small wastewater treatment systems known as package plants.

A long-awaited downtown sewering project has a $20 million funding commitment from New York State but has stalled without legislative approval for Smithtown to transfer a piece of land to Suffolk County to build and run a critical pump station. Assemb. Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) and Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) have co-sponsored a bill to do that.

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