Officials are eager to fund massive sewage treatment projects for the commercial downtowns in Montauk and East Hampton. These will, in turn, open new development opportunities, including so-called “wet” uses, such as restaurants that might otherwise be blocked under Suffolk Health Department rules. There are several problems with this, perhaps the biggest of which is that new commercial growth increases demand for workers at a time when businesses, schools, and even local governments struggle to maintain existing staffing levels. Instead of encouraging growth broadly, the town and East Hampton Village should focus wastewater projects on work force housing.
Another issue with the proposed sewage treatment projects is that their environmental benefit is misplaced. Neither the Montauk nor East Hampton downtown plans address a specific high-priority waterway. Only a later phase that town officials envision would help protect the highly stressed Lake Montauk, but even then, only around the West Lake and Flamingo Drive docks.
Nor would sewage treatment plants in these places protect drinking water broadly; in both locations, residences and businesses get their supply from the Suffolk County Water Authority. So why would town and village officials select the locations they did for the initial sewage plants? Because that is where the money is.
In Montauk, steps are being taken to create a wastewater tax district into which property owners would contribute a share of the construction and maintenance costs. In East Hampton Village, a sewage plant would bring relief to developers and others stymied now in their plans. One holder of significant commercial real estate in the village explained to a reporter that he was waiting for the day when he was no longer limited by the county in the number of luxury townhouses and shops he could build where there are none now.
New commercial development increases traffic, something not needed here. Beyond the annoyance for people running errands, for example, cars and trucks are a leading source of pollution, including greenhouse gases, health-harming particulates, and the toxic road runoff that has long been known to impair water bodies. Growth should be seen as an enemy, given the East End’s extremely finite available infrastructure and the sense, widely shared, that development has already exceeded the reasonable capacity of the land. The Water Authority’s ongoing demand that irrigation be cut is an indication that we are at a tipping point.
Instead of asking what business owners want, officials should be prioritizing demonstrable environmental gains, as well as affordable housing, in designing their costly sewage systems. In failing to take this into consideration, they will only add to the difficulties the region already faces.