Fire Island’s lone sewer system — 99 years old and not in top form — is getting its first makeover.
Thanks to $3 million in state grants and $9 million as part of a no-interest loan announced earlier this month, the Village of Ocean Beach will soon begin a massive infrastructure project to replace its current sewers, which have reached near-capacity, said Steven Brautigam, the village’s clerk and treasurer.
Groundwater levels have risen considerably over the years, made worse by rising tides and storms that cause flooding, bringing the water table as close as 18 inches from the surface, Brautigam said.
“The water has been infiltrating into the sewer system and it depletes our capacity because we have to treat it all by law,” Brautigam said.
The money is part of $33 million in state water grants — now in its third round of funding through the state’s Water Infrastructure Improvement Act — that have been awarded to 15 municipalities across Long Island and the Hudson Valley for “critical municipal water infrastructure projects,” according to a news release issued by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office. Concerns over excess nitrogen pollution have spurred several of these projects.
The only other Long Island municipality to receive funding is the Village of Northport, which is to receive just over $3 million in loans and $1 million in grant money.
Northport Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin, said the funds will go toward replacing two “Depression-era” sewer mains — one that runs along the harbor bed and another right above it along a cliff under Woodbine Avenue — that have a tendency to leak and require repair.
In Ocean Beach, 572 houses and 25 commercial properties sit on a stretch of the barrier island south of Islip Town, accessible only by ferry or boat, that attracts thousands of beachgoers each summer.
The sewer plant, built in 1917 and the only one on the barrier beach, will also receive an overhaul as the old clay sewer pipes beneath the roadways are replaced with new ones, Brautigam said.
“When the next flood comes — and it will come — this will be a lot more protected,” he said of the facility that sits next to a row of restaurants and shops on the eastern end of the village, at the corner of Bay View Walk and Surf View Walk.
The village board awarded a $389,000 contract to D&B Engineers and Architects, of Woodbury, to prepare the grant application and to conduct a survey of the current system, blueprints of which have been long lost, Brautigam said.
Currently, the average property in Ocean Beach pays about $480 in sewer taxes per year, in addition to a $715 average user fee, Brautigam said. Once the project goes out to bid and costs finalize, the village plans to phase in tax increases to help cover the costs.
The newer, larger system will have the ability to expand out to neighboring areas, which have already expressed an interest in hooking up, as the rest of the barrier beach operates on cesspools, Brautigam said.
That would mean more revenue streams to the village and would lower user fees and taxes for village residents.
“This is a huge, once in a lifetime thing,” he said. “And a necessary thing for the future of this village.”