Town and county officials are going to have a difficult time convincing anyone that the cause of a rash of earaches and other infections among people who surf and swim at Ditch Plain has been caused by anything other than wastewater effluent from the adjacent mobile home park. But cause and effect, especially when it comes to illnesses, can be near impossible to pin down.
Looking at the Montauk Shores Condominiums, as the property now calls itself, something seems wrong. What were once modest trailers in many cases have been transformed into full-blown houses. These are at a density far beyond what should be allowed under current environmental protection rules. The condominium association itself has called the situation a public health crisis and acknowledged “spectacular growth” in terms of the number and size of the units. Yet the Suffolk Health Department has examined the system at Montauk Shores and deemed it adequate. Something doesn’t add up.
Whatever the explanation for the current outbreak, there is a painful lesson for the town officials here who have continued to allow additional residential and commercial development in sensitive areas. The Montauk Shores Condominium is far from the only place where incremental improvements, when taken together, add up to real challenges. It is tempting to think what’s done is done, but that obscures the fact that hammers are still pounding along the shore and in other locations where additional building comes at an astronomical cost to the community.
Here, Montauk Shores is not the sole suspect. Nearly the entire Ditch Plain neighborhood sits above a clay layer in the soil that moves contaminant-carrying wastewater relatively quickly, officials say. In some places, the flow heads for the ocean, but in many others, it runs into Lake Montauk. South Lake bathing beach, once popular as a safe place for young children to play, has been closed for years because of water pollution.
There are a growing number of supporters for a potential sewage treatment facility somewhere in Montauk, though the initial proposals have excluded the Ditch Plain area. Others, though, assume that better ways to deal with wastewater will also encourage more growth in a hamlet that many see as already maxed out.
First thing first, however. Officials must do everything they can to find the source or sources of the bacteria and foul odors that have plagued Ditch Plain Beach this summer.