Only about 25 percent of properties in Suffolk County are connected to sewers, compared with three-quarters in Nassau County.
That was one of the takeaways from a presentation Suffolk County deputy executive Peter Scully gave at a meeting of the Long Island Regional Planning Council on Oct. 26.
Scully detailed Suffolk County’s long-range plan to add sewer lines and encourage property owners to either connect to those lines or upgrade their existing septic systems to ones that remove nitrogen from wastewater.
The Suffolk County Long Term Wastewater Infrastructure Plan would be done in phases through 2068, starting with the installation of sewers in downtowns including Kings Park and Smithtown, Scully told the LIRPC, which studies issues affecting Long Island.
More than 380,000 properties in the county are connected to cesspools or septic systems, Scully said. Of those, 360,000 are residential properties and 20,000 are commercial properties.
It would be voluntary for property owners to connect to a sewer or upgrade their cesspool or septic system. The county would provide financial assistance for those who want to do so, said Scully, a former Long Island regional director for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The key to the initiative’s success is to “make it easy and affordable for property owners,” he said.
To help pay for the program, Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone has proposed raising the county sales tax by 1/8 of a percent (or 12 cents per $100), which would raise an estimated $3.1 billion through 2060, Scully said. The county would apply for state and federal grants for the balance of the cost.
The plan requires voter approval, however.
Republicans in the county legislature deferred putting it on the Nov. 7 ballot because, they said, they want to see half of the money going to sewers and the other half to upgrading septic systems and cesspools.
A vote on the initiative hasn’t yet been scheduled.
As Scully outlined in his presentation, nitrogen comes from septic systems and cesspools, compromising drinking water quality and polluting bays and harbors, leading to algal blooms in the waters off Long Island.
It also harms Long Island’s tourism industry, for which the beaches are a major attraction.
Downtowns with sewers have seen economic growth, Scully said, pointing to Patchogue, Huntington and Port Jefferson.
Sewer lines are also being added along Montauk Highway in Mastic and Shirley as part of the Forge River Sewer District. Proponents say it will allow for new businesses along Montauk Highway.
Scully said the county also wants to consolidate Suffolk’s 27 sewer districts into a single, countywide district. That would reduce costs and make rates consistent, regardless of where the property is located, he said.
At present, homeowners in one district may pay far less or far more than homeowners in a neighboring town, Scully said.
The sewer district consolidation plan would require voter approval and hasn’t yet been placed on the ballot.