Eye New Septic Rules

Advanced systems will soon be the rule in the village

The East Hampton Village Board is getting ready to require updated wastewater treatment systems for all new residences and for existing ones that expand their floor area by 25 percent or increase the number of bedrooms. Board members, at a meeting last Thursday, also said they would soon consider making the replacement of failing residential systems a requirement. 

Before the discussion began, Billy Hajek, the village planner and a member of the East Hampton Town water quality advisory committee, summarized the latest revisions of the proposed village law, which now require a property owner to obtain a building permit prior to installing an advanced system and allow code enforcement officers to request a monitoring report to ensure systems were functioning properly.

The law provides that a property owner could be exempted from the mandate by receiving a variance from the zoning board of appeals. Variances would require “good cause,” which is defined as being unable to install an advanced system due to a property’s physical limitations. 

Kevin McDonald, conservation project manager for the Nature Conservancy, thanked the board for recognizing that faulty septic systems were contaminating ground and surface water, calling them just a “slight improvement over Roman technology.”

 Having attended a recent meeting of Suffolk County officials, Mr. McDonald said he was optimistic that the Legislature would soon pass a law increasing the financial assistance available for the installation of advanced systems. Homeowners, who now can receive up to $11,000 from the county, may soon be eligible for up to $20,000, he said. The county lists the  “average”  total cost for improved systems, including engineering, at a little more than $19,000. East Hampton Town also offers  residents up to $16,000 in incentives. 

Another vote of support for the proposed law came from Larry Cantwell, a former East Hampton Town supervisor who previously was the village administrator. He praised the board for going beyond the town’s septic law by requiring upgraded systems for houses that undergo 25 percent expansion, versus the town’s 50 percent. 

Mr. Cantwell also made one recommendation, suggesting the village require those who replace failing septic systems install those that are advanced. “Don’t see it as an expenditure for the homeowner because, to a large extent, it will be funded by the town and county’s programs,” he said. 

In previous meetings, the board had decided to exempt residences with suddenly failing systems for fear that the county’s cumbersome permitting process for advanced systems would leave owners unable to live in their homes for extended periods. 

Mr. McDonald said the county was looking for a way to issue emergency permits that would allow approval within a day. “They realized that somebody with a failed system is a readymade customer” for an upgrade, he said.  

Rose Brown, a village trustee, said on Tuesday that she was eager to add failing systems to the scope of the law, but that county officials had said  a process to expedite permits for them would not be achievable in the near future. She said the village planned to move ahead with the existing provisions and would add an amendment that applied to failed systems as soon as possible. 

In other business, the board appointed Ken Wessberg, a former East Hampton Fire Department chief, to the planning board. Mr. Wessberg’s father had served as the village’s mayor.