The Village of Ocean Beach on Fire Island is trying to drum up financial support for a study looking at how to manage human waste on the barrier island.
Ocean Beach is the only area on Fire Island with sewers, which serve nearly 600 properties. The other 2,050 plots are served by cesspools and septic systems.
Village officials say it's time to look at how to manage sewage for an island where the population balloons by thousands in the summer. With few cars allowed, servicing septic systems is not easy, and the nitrogen produced by human waste leeches into the Great South Bay, Mayor James S. Mallott said.
"This bay is dying through nitrogen," Mallott said. "We'd like to do our part on Fire Island to alleviate that problem."
Superstorm Sandy damaged Ocean Beach's sewage plant and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials have granted about $6 million for repairs. A 2014 study on upgrades to the existing plant also looked at expansion.
D & B Architects and Engineers estimated construction costs to sewer the entire island would cost $46.4 million and prevent 218 pounds of nitrogen from seeping into the Great South Bay daily. The D & B report based its nitrogen estimate on year-round population. The report said daytrippers who visit Fire Island made that an adequate level for planning purposes.
A request for proposals earlier this year estimated the cost of a study to look at waste options would be between $150,000 and $250,000, something the village can't fund on its own, clerk-treasurer Steven Brautigam said. "This feasibility study is for the whole island," he said.
Reducing nitrogen levels is a priority of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, officials in his office said. Justin Meyers, assistant deputy county executive, said the county was setting up a time to meet with Ocean Beach officials.
The county is also testing septic systems that remove nitrogen, including one for high water table areas such as Fire Island.
"We're eager to work with any municipality that is looking to reduce nitrogen pollution in the community through a number of methods," Meyers said.
Suffolk is "in a permanent state of fiscal scarcity and any time unbudgeted requests come in they are by nature difficult to fulfill," he said. "However, with certain things that fall under key priorities, there may be opportunities within the budget to fund this."
Mike Bilecki, the Fire Island National Seashore's chief of natural resources management, said park officials support a study but it's unlikely they could contribute financially.
A study is worth considering, agreed Fire Island Association president Suzy Goldhirsch, but she added, nitrogen has not been a big concern because of the seasonal nature of the barrier island.
"First of all, we have to know the dimensions of the problem," she said. "We need to quantify and figure out what the problem is and then come up with the solutions."
Mario Posillico, clerk and administrator for Saltaire on Fire Island, said the village has 401 residential parcels served by septic tanks. Regarding a sewer system, Posillico said, "long-term, I think it is something that should be evaluated."
The Governor's Office of Storm Recovery set aside $3 million for Fire Island communities and hosted dozens of meetings to come up with project proposals aimed at making the area more resilient.
A sewer or wastewater study was not included in the proposals and will likely not be funded with that money, storm recovery office spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio said.