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Water-quality measure on Nov. 8 ballot

A hearing will be held by the East Hampton Town Board next Thursday night on a proposed amendment to the community preservation fund that would both extend the 2-percent real estate transfer tax, which raises money for the fund, by 20 years through 2050 and authorize the use of up to 20 percent of the proceeds for projects to improve water quality.

 The fund was established and until now has been used exclusively for land and historic preservation.

Next week’s hearing is technically on a draft local law authorizing the change that is to be on the Election Day ballot in November. Based on a 10-year average of preservation fund revenue, if approved by voters, the program’s overhaul and extension could provide $4.6 million a year for water projects, or approximately $152 million for the life of the program.

The law calls for the creation of a water quality technical advisory committee to work with the town’s community preservation fund advisory board to review proposed water quality improvement projects and make recommendations to the town board, which would hold hearings on individual projects to solicit public comment.  A water quality improvement plan for the town, which is required by the law and was drafted by the Natural Resources Department, outlines conditions in each of eight watersheds it calls of concern. It includes recommendations for wastewater treatment, agricultural pollution control and abatement, aquatic habitat restoration, and other pollution prevention efforts.

  Among the possible projects in the plan are a rebate and incentive program to help homeowners install improved septic systems that remove nitrogen from wastewater and the installation of neighborhood waste treatment systems in ecologically sensitive areas.

The plan, which runs to 65 pages, includes an analysis of suggested projects according to their consistency with the goals of the Peconic Estuary Program, which is recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as a priority list of initiatives that could be conducted over the next decade, with cost estimates. It calls for a cost-benefit analysis of each project.

Also required is certification by the East Hampton Town Board that a project is consistent with one or more regional water quality improvement plans and scientific standards or targets, that it complies with East Hampton’s zoning and comprehensive plans, and that it will result in a measurable improvement in water quality or aquatic habitat.

 The plan stipulates that the board may not certify projects “with the primary purpose or result of which are to accommodate new or additional residential or commercial growth or development.”

The largest sources of pollutants, according to a summary of the plan, are stormwater runoff and “substandard septic systems discharging bacteria and nutrients into the groundwater table which permeates to surface waters.”

According to the summary, “current local water quality issues include occurrences of harmful algal blooms . . . reduction in water clarity, low dissolved oxygen levels resulting in potential fish kills, and excessive bacteria levels leading to shellfish and bathing beach closures. These issues stem from human inputs of pollutants such as pathogens, bacteria, and nutrients (specifically nitrogen and phosphorus) to surface waters.”