Clean water is elemental to the health, economy, recreation, and overall well-being of Long Island and its residents. Yet, on Tuesday, July 25, the Suffolk County Legislature failed to allow the Suffolk County Clean Water Plan to appear on the 2023 general election ballot in November. The legislature voted to recess after the public hearings for resolutions 1512 and 1573, essentially condemning the plan, as the Suffolk County Legislature’s next general meeting is not until September.
Suffolk County’s Clean Water Plan aimed to address the nitrogen pollution infiltrating the Great South Bay and the county’s groundwater, which poses a serious hazard for both Long Island residents and marine life. Nitrogen pollution from untreated wastewater impairs our water quality, leading to beach closures, death of marine life, and even increased cancer risks. According to Dr. Chris Gobler of Stony Brook University’s Gobler Laboratory, nitrogen pollution stemming from dated sewers and septic systems this summer has resulted in some of the most harmful algal blooms, fish kills, and water quality impairments on record. Further, Dr. Gobler observed that the South Shore of Suffolk County is littered with “dead zones” of little to no oxygen due to the antiquated systems still in use.
The Suffolk County Clean Water Plan, which had been in development for over ten years, aimed to help reverse these trends by updating septic systems and utilizing sewage treatment to stem the flow of nitrogen. If approved, the plan would have funded the replacement of outdated, nitrogen-polluting cesspools and expanded sewer systems by asking county residents in November to approve adding a 0.125 percent sales tax increase. This updated tax would have been the equivalent of only 12 cents on a $100 taxable purchase.
Yet, attempts to get the Suffolk County Clean Water Plan onto the November ballot were thwarted on June 21, when Republican legislators voted against allowing the act to be placed on the 2023 general election ballot. Many constituents were left perplexed by this decision, with some constituents feeling as though the Republican legislators chose partisan politics over their constituents’ right to vote for clean water. On July 25, the legislators reinforced their decision by recessing and failing to approve a public referendum at their general meeting.
Legislators maintain that their decision to vote against the plan did not stem from partisan ties, but rather a disconnect between what the Suffolk County Clean Water Plan set out to accomplish and proper allocation of funds. To develop a better understanding of why local legislators deemed the Suffolk County Clean Water Plan to be flawed, hear the thoughts behind their decision-process from the legislators themselves.
Legis. Steven Flotteron,
Legislative District 11:
“The problem with this resolution is that it is not supported… [The Suffolk County Clean Water Plan] is projected to bring approximately $166 million a year. There are guarantees for approximately $34 million for land acquisition and open space, guarantees for $35 million to balance the county budget for the general fund, $13 million for 84 jobs in parks and recreation, economic development, planning, department of public works, and health department. Of the $166 million, there are all these big things—it’s almost a hidden tax to balance the county budget. There is legislation that gives us the power to approve a little over $12 million for sewers, but there is not one cent guaranteed in it for sewers… There is a chunk of money for IAs, but that is really more for out east and the north shore. In low-lying areas like Oakdale, the water table is too hard to use IAs. Parts of my district are not sewered, and they are the ones that need to be sewered, not IA’d. But there is no money, it is all going to other stuff… [If the plan were enacted] best case scenario is approximately $12 million of the $166 million will go to sewers at the discretion of the Suffolk County government. This resolution creates a sewer district that does not create sewers. I am working with my colleagues on getting this legislation for the resolution corrected to actually provide funding for sewers.”
Legis. Anthony Piccirillo,
Legislative District 8:
“The act is totally flawed, the bill is atrocious, and I would never put flawed legislation on the ballot. The funding mechanism of this bill states right in this text that no less than 75 percent of the money would be used for IA systems, and not real sewer infrastructure. So, if you factor in the administrative costs, you already get 90 to 95 percent of the money gone before one penny goes to actual sewer infrastructure in low-lying areas like Sayville, Bayport, and Oakdale, you cannot use IA systems there. They would need to have actual sewer infrastructure to fix the health of the Great South Bay. By me voting for flawed legislation, I would actually be hurting the communities that I represent, which is not going to happen. The assembly sponsor was approached to fix the bill. He does not want to do that, and now the ball is back in their court. They should fix the bill and then it would go on the ballot.”
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