New System May Take Place of Downtown Montauk Cesspools

Pio Lombardo, standing at right, a consulting engineer, discussed a proposal to create a centralized wastewater treatment system for downtown Montauk properties at a meeting of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee on Monday night. Janis Hewitt

It has long been known that numerous lots in Montauk’s downtown business district have inadequate wastewater systems and lack space to install better ones, but for a centralized system to be viable there, a good number of businesses must opt in, Pio Lombardo told people gathered at a Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Monday.

Mr. Lombardo, whose firm Lombardo Associates is working on a townwide wastewater management plan, has suggested such a system for downtown Montauk. It could take up to five years and cost $26 million to build, he said.

Under the proposal, a water quality improvement district would be created and its members taxed to pay for the construction and operation of a system that would collect and transport waste to a centralized, underground treatment area.

Individual business owners could choose whether they want to be included in the district and connect to the new system. For the centralized system to be a go in Montauk, owners of properties representing at least half of the overall wastewater flow generated in the area would have to sign on.

For more than a decade, federal law has banned the use of cesspools on any property that serves more than 20 people a day. However, Mr. Lombardo said, that law is not widely enforced. A cesspool is considered inadequate, he said, if it needs to be pumped out three or more times per year.

The 169 developed properties that are candidates for inclusion in the wastewater district extend from South Eton Street on the west to Essex Street on the east, between Fort Pond and the ocean. Each property owner that connects to the central system would pay a fee depending on the size of the property and its rate of wastewater flow. Dry stores would pay less than wet stores such as restaurants and motels.

Estimated costs based on the particular conditions of each property were provided in outreach letters sent to property owners prior to the meeting, and were calculated according to several scenarios, such as if varying amounts of grant money were to be received for the project. Montauk meets much of the criteria that would make it eligible for grant money, Mr. Lombardo said.

He mentioned several potential sites for the underground system on Monday, but he seemed to favor what he called a “sweet spot” near the Montauk Firehouse. The system, he said, is air and watertight, which would eliminate odors. It would also eliminate nitrogen and could be configured to identify contaminants in the wastewater, such as pharmaceutical drugs that people often flush down toilets when they no longer need them.

Montauk’s dock and Ditch Plain areas would also benefit from a neighborhood wastewater treatment system, Mr. Lombardo said, explaining that bacterial contamination from the Ditch Plain area cannot filter through a heavy clay surface and ends up in Lake Montauk. The properties cannot solve the problems with individual solutions, he said, adding that neighborhood systems would collect and carry liquid waste from septic tanks at individual houses or businesses to a centralized underground treatment area. The treated effluent could be used for irrigation, as it is in many other areas, specifically on golf courses.

Mr. Lombardo has been working closely with Kim Shaw, the town’s natural resources director, on the study. The letter to downtown business owners and Monday’s presentation were first steps to provide information to property owners so that town officials could gauge their interest the project.

Next steps, Mr. Lombardo said, would include the establishment of advisory committees focusing on the downtown, Ditch Plain, and dock areas; development of detailed engineering plans and site studies and analyses, and a study of potential growth and future development of the hamlet both under current zoning and in the case of zoning changes that could be allowed by the enhanced capability to process wastewater. The town board is developing criteria for planning studies of all of the town’s hamlets, which would dovetail with the wastewater planning. Extensive public participation would be key throughout the process, the consultant said.

Some business owners at the meeting this week had not received the letter and asked for more information. “As a business owner I would like to be more involved,” said Bill Mavro of the Montauk Clothing Store on Montauk Highway.

A call was made for a vote on the matter on Monday, but members agreed they didn’t know enough about the project yet to decide on the group’s position. Some in the audience met in the hallway privately to speak in more detail with Mr. Lombardo. All of the data and reports regarding the comprehensive wastewater management plan have been posted at

After Mr. Lombardo’s presentation, committee members voiced frustration about the “hundreds” of Uber cabs operating in the hamlet. They also complained about the taxicabs taking up all the parking spaces on both sides of the street near the Chamber of Commerce building. Laraine Creegan, the chamber’s executive director, said she had asked them to move. “I can’t even say what they said to me,” she told the committee. (A larger story on taxicabs appears elsewhere in this issue.)

Members complained about a business that is having its employees park in the Kirk Park parking lot and shuttling them to work. They said that for years they worked with the town to improve beach access to the area and even asked that the parking fee there be abolished so that visitors would use the lot more frequently. Although they did not mention the business by name during the meeting, afterward they named Gurney’s Inn.

On Tuesday, Paul Monte, the senior adviser at Gurney’s, said that some employees had used the lot during the holiday weekend. “We don’t intend to utilize it in the future. Fortunately throughout that period, there were always plenty of vacant spots available to beachgoers.”

With Reporting by Joanne Pilgrim