Over the years, since 2006, officials had been unable to come up with enough money to offset costs for residents. But after a deal with the federal government to use over $160 million in funds earmarked for communities negatively impacted by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, the Mastic-Shirley Forge River sewer project regained a new life.
The project went out to BID earlier this year for three of the project components in Phase 1 and 2. However, due to COVID-19, implications in funding have caused a delay in moving forward as the search for additional money continues.
According to Suffolk County Legislature presiding officer Rob Calarco, BIDs for all three of the county’s sewer projects, including Mastic-Shirley, Patchogue and Deer Park, came in 20 to 30 percent overestimates.
“That is a major challenge for us and not something that the county can take on without pursuing alternatives,” he said, also assuring that the county is working with the federal government to potentially secure American Relief Plan money.
The only saving component, Calarco said, is that due to COVID-19 delays, the project money already in place, including millions of dollars in a combination of hazard mitigation money from FEMA and community development grant money from HUD, have been given extensions through 2024.
“The project had a strict timeline attached to it and was supposed to have been completed by the end of 2022,” he said, happy with the two-year extension. “All of these projects are large in scope and would have been difficult to get done in a year-and-a-half timeline.”
The entire Mastic-Shirley project, according to former Suffolk County Legis. Rudy Sunderman, would include approximately 1,900 homes and over 150 businesses in the hook up, with the future potential to add in Mastic Beach and potentially Bellport. However, councilman Michael Loguercio said he is working on a separate project to secure sewers for the greater Bellport area, despite what happens in Mastic-Shirley.
The fourth project, in the Idle Hour Oakdale area, Calarco added, has not yet gone to referendum, but would also be included with the funding. As for the Patchogue portion of the project, it would include about 500 homes and additional businesses in the southern portion of the village.
“We understand the frustration folks in the area are having,” Calarco said, acknowledging the proposed rally. “We had a timeline expected for construction this year, but we haven’t yet because of this funding differential.”
In light of the shortfall in funding, the Mastic-Shirley Chamber of Commerce has organized an SOS (Save Our Sewers)rally scheduled for this Saturday, April 24 at 9 a.m. at the Shirley Applebee’s parking lot on the Montauk Highway and William Floyd intersection.
According to chamber president Beth Wahl, if funding were to be lost, it would be a major setback for the area and would hamper the economic boon that the sewers would bring.
“We need to send a message to find funding and keep pressure on them,” Wahl said of the reasoning behind organizing a rally. She hopes a number of local residents will attend to show their support, as well as local officials and leaders in the area, including congressman Lee Zeldin, of which the area is his hometown. “We need this. What is so disturbing is that this was a shovel-ready project with a deadline to start construction. If it doesn’t start, then we could lose the millions and millions of dollars in funding.”
“I have been fighting for this for 20 years. I just want to live to be able to flush my toilet one time with a sewer instead of a cesspool,” she added. “It would be heartbreaking if we got this far and it doesn’t happen.”
Chamber executive board member Paul Quinn echoed Wahl’s sentiments, hoping to draw the community out for the rally. “Nitrogen is entering our waterways. Long Island needs to move forward and progress with sewers,” he said, noting that he hopes to see the tri-hamlet area become developed like Patchogue and Riverhead. “If it doesn’t come now, I am not sure it will ever. We were promised it.”
In 2006, residents and elected officials proposed installing sewers in the tri-hamlet community. Former Legis. Kate Browning, upon entering the legislature in 2006, spearheaded the project. Then in 2019, voters approved the measure 414-71, out of a possible 3,300 eligible residents. The bids were reviewed in March and construction plans were supposed to break ground this year. The original cost was estimated at $167 million.
The project is promised to be done at zero cost to the taxpayer, including the hookup. Those who choose to hook up will be required to make a quarterly fee for maintenance and cleaning equivalent to just under $500 per year.
However, one of the main concerns about the project is the cost for businesses. The federal monies are only available to homeowners, so businesses could face construction costs of up to $20,000 for the system. A $250,000 grant is also available from the county to businesses, as well as another $250,000 grant secured by former New York State Sen. Monica Martinez, which would be split up between those who apply, out of the 154 in 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.
Browning, who is also currently running for reelection, said she would continue to fight for federal funding to see the project through. “I have already secured over $300 million in FEMA money and we need to make sure we can advocate for infrastructure money,” she said. “I will make sure we continue to fight for that and will be the first in line with my hand out.”
She also noted that a stipulation of the FEMA funding already in place might exclude the usability of potential future funding from the American Rescue Plan, something, she believes, the county is currently working on. In the meantime, she suggested local residents call upon their local congressman to urge him to facilitate proper approvals to use the funding.
Republican candidate for the vacated seat, James Mazzarella, said the project holds the keys to a better environmental and economic future for the area, also promising to fight for it.
“This project languished for years to the point that the federal funding was in danger. It should be a surprise to no one that it is over budget because of cost escalations in every facet of the project,” he said. “We must build the project – anything other than that is unacceptable. The county received nearly $550 million from the federal government in the last year. It’s time to put some of that money to use for the people of Mastic, Mastic Beach and Shirley. It must be made a priority because the people of this area deserve it.”