A septic tank is installed in Nesconset as part of...

A septic tank is installed in Nesconset as part of a pilot program as of Suffolk County's Reclaim Our Water initiative on August 20, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

As environmentalists ramp up efforts to create a reliable source of funding for Suffolk’s fight against nitrogen pollution, the time has come for state and county lawmakers to pick a side:

Either you want to solve this problem or you do not.

Advocates are considering two strategies to fund grants for needed steps like sewer expansions and high-tech septic systems for homeowners. One would place a fee on water usage through the Suffolk County Water Authority, and requires approval of the State Legislature. The other would create a property tax line. Both would benefit from county legislative backing. And either would take place only with voter approval via a public referendum.

So, to the lawmakers: If you are not sure these are good ways to fund the work needed, then devise a better plan. None have so far. If no better plan can be devised, then continuing to resist while claiming support for a solution is being dishonest.

If there is concern that the Bellone administration might raid this new fund for other purposes, then ensure that the lockbox language environmentalists have proposed is the strongest possible.

Opponents should stop mischaracterizing the referendum proposals. Support for a referendum does not mean you support raising taxes. It means you support letting Suffolk’s residents decide whether they want to pay more to improve water quality — something they have chosen to do repeatedly in the past for other initiatives.

The nitrogen problem is critical. If you’re not working on a solution by now, you’re part of the problem. 

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