“If you build it, they will come.” That old familiar line, from the baseball film “Field of Dreams,” has been applied to nearly anything imaginable — and should be to costly new sewage treatment facilities being planned for Montauk and East Hampton Village.
At the moment, the greatest single impediment to more-dense development in the South Fork downtowns is the absence of wastewater treatment options. Under Suffolk County Health Department regulations, most commercial properties and some residential ones are already at the maximum flow.
In fact, the would-be developer of a new multi-unit residential complex in East Hampton Village has said that he was waiting for a centralized system to come online before moving forward. The project would remake a portion of upper Newtown Lane near the train station. Also in the village, buildings, like the one housing this newspaper, are “maxed out,” and no further uses would be allowed — unless a centralized sewer system were put in place.
In Montauk, septic waste issues also make new, large-scale construction nearly impossible. This reality has been dismissed by some town officials, including Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who instead argues that the town’s zoning rules control growth. Having been a member of the town zoning board of appeals at one time, Mr. Van Scoyoc must know that determined property owners can usually get most, if not all, of what they want, if they have enough money and plenty of lawyers. And, even if the supervisor’s musings were accurate, the movement toward a $75 million-minimum sewer plant has not been accompanied by a related review of pertinent land-use regulations.
In Montauk and East Hampton Village, it’s all about the money and not the environment. As far as wildlife habitats or fisheries go, neither downtown is a significant watershed. Fort Pond would get some benefit from sewers nearby, and Hook Pond from a system centered on Main Street, sure, but nothing is in the works for the far more important Lake Montauk or Georgica Pond. A town consultant for its project has acknowledged that Montauk downtown properties are “underutilized” and “are losing value as they cannot be used to their fullest extent.”
There is also a potentially harmful precedent that would be established in Montauk, where a land swap is proposed that would eliminate about 14 acres of county parkland in Hither Woods in exchange for land farther east in the hamlet in order to build the sewage plant. This is not the first time recently that the town has turned a park into something else; a planned medical center is to begin construction soon on two former ball fields off Pantigo Place in East Hampton that were quietly and improperly handed over to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. Though new Little League fields are being installed elsewhere, the town did not meet its obligation to balance the loss with new acquisitions, as required by state law.
Future town and village taxpayers should not be left with the cost of systems whose long-term effects were not adequately understood in the first place. Sewers will invite growth. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous.