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Suffolk OKs first 9 homeowners for high-tech septic systems

When Stephen Ostendorff bought his home in Northport seven years ago, he knew the cesspool system “was at the end of its useful life.”

So when Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone launched a grant program to help homeowners buy new high-tech septic systems that can cost up to $20,000, Ostendorff emailed his application at 9 a.m. on the first day the county began taking applications last week.

“The $11,000 is a great start and helps us do things the right way. Cesspools are not so environmentally friendly,” said Ostendorff, 39, admissions director at the Bank Street Graduate School of Education in Manhattan. “I feel like we are part of program that is doing our small part for the environment.”

Ostendorff is one of the first nine Suffolk homeowners who won grants Tuesday to help replace aging cesspool systems, especially in low-lying areas near surface waters. In all, Suffolk officials say 165 residents in the initial week have applied to county’s pioneering water protection program, the first of its kind in the state.

Those approved should receive formal notification in the mail this week and can move forward with replacement once they sign agreements with the county.

Jason Elan, spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone, said the early turnaround occurred because a number of early applicants filed all the needed information immediately. He added so far no one has been found unqualified, but officials said they expect applications may take from four to six weeks to process.

Under the program, residents who earn less than $300,000 annually can qualify for grants up to $10,000 to offset the cost of buying and installing the nitrogen reducing septic systems and finance the rest of the cost with a 15-year loan limited to 3 percent interest. Those earning $300,000 to $500,000 can get grants up to $5,000.

Bellone launched the program to make the cost of installing a new system affordable, compared with the current $8,000 for installing a conventional septic system that does little to combat nitrogen pollution. Those in environmentally sensitive areas or who have systems that are failing and require two pump-outs a year get preference for grants.

The county estimates that the waste disposal systems of 360,000 homes in Suffolk need to be replaced, and it has established a $2-million-a-year fund for four years that can provide grants for about 200 systems a year. The state also has set aside $75 million for a similar septic system replacement program, but rules have yet to be established on how money will be allocated statewide. Suffolk and its 10 towns are requesting $50 million in state funding from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which could fund 2,500 grants for additional homes.

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