In 2006, residents and elected officials had an idea: install sewers in the tri-hamlet community. And on Tuesday, Jan. 22, the goal became a reality. Voters approved the measure 414-71, out of a possible 3,300 eligible residents.
“It’s a very exciting time for community revitalization,” said Suffolk County Legis. Rudy Sunderman, who has been pushing for the project since his campaign.
Residents in Phases 1 and 2 (out of four) were eligible to vote on Tuesday, as the project would only be approved for those two areas, which covers northeastern Mastic and the Montauk Highway corridor of Shirley. It affects approximately 150 businesses and 1,800 homes. It will completely cover the cost of construction for residents, leaving them to pay the $470 annual fee for maintenance and cleaning. Officials have repeatedly said that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Former Legis. Kate Browning, upon entering the Legislature in 2006, spearheaded the project. The process was bumpy, with officials unable to come up with enough money to offset costs for residents. But in a deal with the federal government to use over $160 million in funds earmarked for communities negatively impacted by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, it regained a new life.
The reasons for the project were multifaceted. Browning told the Advance Tuesday that the main goal was to preserve the quality of the Forge River.
“It has always been about the Forge River. It has always been about water quality,” she said.
Browning added that there had been some reported problems with the Forge River in 2003-04, with the discovery of excess nitrogen levels. The problem continued to get worse, she said, as more studies were done. Once the idea for sewers was produced, they predicted a 10-year wait for an official jump forward. It’s been 13 years, and despite what she considers the negative implications from political opponents in the early years of the project, officials are now eagerly waiting to get the project approved.
Browning felt optimistic about the vote early Tuesday, as did Sunderman and his team. Community groups have been pushing residents to say yes, and Browning was even calling residents in the voting areas on Tuesday to persuade them to head to the polls.
“We, the MBPOA Board of Directors, encourage those of you that live in Phases 1 and 2 to get out and vote yes for this project,” wrote the leaders of the Mastic Beach Property Owners Association in a message to members on Monday. “Not only is this good for the environment, it’s good for you as well. You will never have to worry about pumping or replacing your cesspool ever again.”
As previously reported, if approved, the project would move forward in four phases, and Phases 1 and 2 are expected to begin construction in 2020. Sunderman said the project improves quality of life, improves the environment, and will help the local economy.
“I think it’s good for our area, good for our community, good for our waters, and good for our children,” Sunderman told the Advance in September.
Residents have also been in support, saying they want it for the community to increase property values and to allow better quality of life in the near future. Residents along the river, including Sunderman, have experienced trouble during high tides, sometimes needing to not use the toilet or washing machine due to the flooding of the cesspools underground.
“There will be no better opportunity for our communities to improve all property values and look to future growth,” said Frank Fugarino of Mastic Beach.
Residents at the polls cited improved water quality and the increased opportunity to businesses as the top reasons why the project should go through.
One of the main concerns about the project is the cost for businesses. The federal dollars are only available to homeowners, so businesses could face construction costs of up to $20,000 for the system.
“For many of our businesses, that will be a death knell,” representatives from the Mastics & Shirley Chamber of Commerce wrote in a letter in September. “While this sewer project will be a major economic boon for our community and we are totally supportive of the proposed sewer district, we don't want to see it be a burden on our existing businesses.”
As reported last week in the Advance, government officials are working to provide relief to businesses who would incur these costs. A $250,000 grant is available from the county to businesses, which would be split up to those who apply, out of the 154 total. Businesses have the option to not hook up during the main construction period, but would eventually be mandated by the Department of Public Works. A representative from state Sen. Monica Martinez’s office told the Chamber that she would seek additional funds from Albany to provide businesses relief.
“With last night’s vote, this has changed, and there is great opportunity for a vibrant mix of land uses in the commercial corridor,” said Councilman Dan Panico told the Advance Wednesday.
In addition to the proposition to create the sewer district, the project will also create a sewage treatment plant at Calabro Airport in Brookhaven. Construction of the treatment plant would allow the additional phases to be ready for construction, an additional $500 million in funds, which Sunderman has requested.
Forge River is not the only sewer project that was voted on Tuesday. In Great River, a $26.4 million project failed with 56 percent of the vote, connecting over 450 homes to the Southwest Sewer District, cutting down on nitrogen released into the Connetquot River. Also, West Babylon, North Babylon and Wyandanch residents overwhelmingly voted for a $140 million measure to also connect to the Southwest Sewer District, which would cut down on nitrogen being released into the Carlls River.
The project will now move to the surveying stage, where engineers will visit the homes and businesses of those in Phases 1 and 2 to plan out the construction process. Construction is slated to begin next year. Meanwhile, Sunderman is working to get the rest of the funds for Phases 3 and 4. Sunderman will also look to include another provision in phases one and two, which would extend a sewer pipe from Mastic Road through Neighborhood Road, in an effort to jumpstart the community’s revitalization.
Elected officials announced Wednesday that they would seek to use the funding earmarked for the Great River project, totaling 26.4 million, for the third phase in Mastic Beach. It would be a small dent in the total $500 million needed for the second half of this project but is a step closer to getting it achieved.