Six weeks to sewer vote

Residents of Mastic, Mastic Beach and Shirley will head to the polls in a special vote next month, which would establish a sewer district in the waterfront community. The vote will take place on Jan. 22 and would approve a plan to construct a sewer system completely funded by federal grant money.

According to officials, the project has continued to see significant support. Their main points for pushing it forward is the toxicity of the Forge River, improvements to the environment, a modernized system, and overall savings for taxpayers. Supporters of the project are calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Nicholas Calderon, a representative of the Long Island chapter of Nature Conservancy, said the organization is behind the project for environmental reasons, but also to improve quality of life in the community. He said the large amounts of nitrogen currently in the water is a major issue and needs to be addressed in order to preserve Long Island’s way of life. Calderon added that it is a big step forward and would be the largest water-quality improvement action in Suffolk County in 40 years.

Peter Scully, deputy county executive, called the project “historic” and explained that federal funds are what made it possible. He said the switch to sewers is a net savings for taxpayers in the community, who have to currently pay to clean out their septic tanks every year. The sewer system would cost $470 in annual maintenance and cleaning. Scully added that restoring water quality to the region is crucial and would allow for more economic activity and improved quality of life. He also said it has a major impact on property values.

Jon Sieberts of Vision Long Island called the funded construction “a gift” and that the project is long overdue.

According to Suffolk County Legis. Rudy Sunderman, surveys of properties have begun taking place, which is the first step in the building phase of the project. Residents are currently receiving visits from engineers who will survey their property and gain information in order to accurately plan the construction phase. Before someone shows up at the front door, residents will receive a door hanger to signify that someone plans to visit soon. Technicians will locate existing water lines, electrical lines, etc., locate existing sewage disposal systems, and take photos of the exterior of the property. They will also need to enter the home to verify information for the existing electrical panel and sewer line, if applicable, including taking photos.

A challenge for officials has been to get the public educated and informed on its benefits. Sunderman said that informing residents has been his major goal since taking office, adding that many he interacted with on his campaign were unaware it even existed. He hopes residents will be able to make an educated decision on Jan. 22.

Should the vote fail, Sunderman said, the project stops and the money that has already been set aside will go elsewhere. However, if the voters approve the plan, the construction phase will shortly begin and he will work on gaining funding for phases 3 and 4, which cover southern Mastic and Mastic Beach.

Sieberts agreed that informing the public has been a challenge, but has been focusing on the benefits versus the cost. Sunderman has dealt with the issues personally, from the polluted water and the overexposed septic system. He said that when the tide was at a certain level, his family couldn’t wash clothes or flush the toilet.

Maria Brandis, a teacher in the William Floyd School District and a resident of Mastic, wanted to get as much information as she could and wanted to make sure she got the facts straight. After what she’s seen, she supports the project, hoping it improves community life and water quality. She hopes it will move forward, creating additional opportunities for residents and businesses. Brandis called the upgrade an “investment” in the community and said it’s important to push forward.

Phase 1 of the project covers Montauk Highway in Shirley, from just west of William Floyd Parkway through Mastic, ending at the Forge River. It goes almost up to Sunrise Highway and ends on Mastic Boulevard on the train tracks. Phase 2 begins south of the tracks and ends between Meadowmere and Riverside avenues. Phases 3 and 4 cannot be completed until 1 and 2 are approved in September. He added that he has already begun looking for funding sources for the second half of the project and has put in a request for about $500 million, which would require another vote.

For additional information on the project, please visit forgewatershedsewers.com.

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