[PUBLISHED ORIGINALLY IN THE SUFFOLK COUNTY NEWS]
BY JAMES BERTSCH
OAKDALE—Suffolk County Legis. William Lindsay met with residents at the Oakdale Civic meeting last week regarding plans to sewer parts of Oakdale using New York State storm relief funds. Lindsay shared the tentative boundaries and timeline for the project including news there would be an Oakdale sewer referendum vote in the future. This vote would impact those residents located within the area to receive sewers, and it would take place after a sewer district was established. The county plans to use $26.4 million of previously allocated storm recovery money to do the work.
The mood was dramatically improved from a meeting this fall between Gov. Cuomo’s office and Oakdale residents at the West Sayville Fire Department. The fire department meeting focused on flood control in the wetlands. Yet, residents clashed with officials from the Office of Storm Recovery at that meeting. Unable to do their laundry or wash their dishes at high tide, Oakdale residents also struggle with frequent flooding, meaning they struggle with a myriad of water management problems. Residents have long pressed for relief. At the meeting, however, residents, including business owner Richard Remmer, seemed to breathe a sigh of relief that help was finally on the way.
This past January, voters throughout low-lying South Shore neighborhoods in Suffolk County approved new sewers by a collective vote of 1256-460. Using Sandy storm relief money from a prior budget, grant monies residents won’t be taxed on, this would be the first major public water project in 40 years. Yet, since ballots are neighborhood-based, Great River voted the ballot down and forfeited the funds (230-304). The two successful votes, one in Babylon and another in Shirley, when taken together, passed by a nearly 10-1 ratio (1026-156).
When Great River’s sewer vote failed, Lindsay submitted a request to Cuomo to use the $26.4 million to sewer the first phase in Oakdale. Lindsay’s application was chosen over another local application, one Brookhaven supervisor Ed Romaine and Patchogue mayor Paul Pontieri teamed up on. Since water problems have plagued Oakdale for so long, Lindsay repurposed his earlier work documenting the problem, this time to make a case for sewers. The engineering studies and public input required for an area to be eligible for sewers had already been undertaken as well because of persistent problems. The town and county— going back to former county Legis. William Lindsay II—have held so many meetings around pollution in the Grand Canal, Lindsay, deputy county executive Peter Scully and others wondered if a sewer vote was even required.
Lindsay nevertheless pressed for a sewer referendum vote for next winter out of respect for residents. The project should be completed, per the timeline that was shared, by 2024:
Begin design/engineering – Spring ’19
Public hearing – Fall ’19
Special Election/Creation of
Sewer District – Winter ’20
Complete Design – Spring ’21
Start Construction – Winter ’21
End Construction – Mid 2024
The county is applying for additional grant monies to extend sewers eastward into West Sayville and then into Sayville and Holbrook in seven different zones. In keeping with county plans, priority is given to homes along rivers and the Great South Bay because rising ground waters mean these areas are the largest polluters of our waterways. These grant applications are aspirational, unlike the Oakdale sewer plan, which is budgeted to go through providing the vote is successful.
Extending the sewer line eastward from East Islip is good news for the region. The cesspool systems widely in use in Suffolk County are intended for rural areas. Of the nitrogen-monitoring stations on the Great South Bay, Sayville’s tested the highest. “The neighborhood has significantly developed,” said Tara McManus of Idle Hour. “Sewers can help us manage this development and restore balance in our housing, our population expansion and our environment.”
Meanwhile, the doubling of Patchogue’s sewer expansion has helped their commercial district thrive. Water management problems continue to hamstring business districts in Oakdale, West Sayville and Sayville.
However, the question remains that in addition to residential nitrogen systems the county is moving towards, will additional sewer monies be made available to other communities? Only time will tell.