The Coalition for Hither Woods, an organization of conservation groups that formed in 1982 to oppose proposals to develop that area of Montauk, has reformed as an incorporated not-for-profit to oppose the potential siting there of a sewage treatment plant to serve the hamlet.
A town committee has been meeting regularly to identify a site for a facility that would serve the hamlet’s downtown, where properties are typically too small to accommodate “innovative alternative” septic systems that reduce nitrogen leaching. Many existing septic systems there are failing and must be pumped out regularly.
Wastewater flow and property-size constraints limit on-site treatment options in other densely populated areas of the hamlet as well, including Ditch Plain, the docks, and the area around the Long Island Rail Road Station and Industrial Road. Town officials are considering a site larger than initially envisioned in order to plan for the potential ability to treat effluent from those areas, too. The downtown area is envisioned as the first in a multiphase project, with future expansion to the other areas.
Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc referred on June 14 to a site east of the hamlet’s former landfill as “promising” to accommodate a sewage treatment plant.
The coalition’s preservation efforts in the 1980s were successful, Rick Whalen, an attorney and one of its founders, said this week. He described it as an umbrella group that included Concerned Citizens of Montauk, the Group for the South Fork (now known as Group for the East End), and the Nature Conservancy.
Ultimately, the town, Suffolk County, and New York State agreed to buy 580 acres that were proposed to be developed as “Benson Point.” The county agreed to buy the 777 acres that now make up the Lee Koppelman Nature Preserve in 1998, although the initial buyer was the Nature Conservancy, which sold it to the county early in 1999, Mr. Whalen said. “For six or so years, the coalition fought to preserve that land, and ultimately we were completely successful.”
The deeds for both conveyances, Mr. Whalen said, include a stipulation that any lease or conveyance of any part to the town shall be void. “The subject premises, or any part thereof, shall never be transferred to or owned by the Town of East Hampton, whether in fee, leasehold, or license,” reads a passage in the February 1989 deed conveying the Koppelman Preserve from the Nature Conservancy to the county. “Any sale, transfer, lease, or license to it shall be void.”
Town officials have not chosen a site for the proposed sewage treatment plant. Several properties previously identified were eliminated from consideration, including county-owned parcels adjacent to the former landfill that were determined to have deed restrictions.
“How much we have to do depends on the town,” Mr. Whalen said of the coalition’s efforts. He said he had communicated to Mr. Van Scoyoc and Councilman David Lys “that the Coalition for Hither Woods would oppose any use of parkland in Hither Woods for the sewage treatment plant.”
The coalition’s purpose was the same 40 years ago as it is today, Mr. Whalen said. “The strongest argument we had was that Hither Woods was the future source of Montauk’s drinking water. At the time, nobody contemplated that the Suffolk County Water Authority would put a water line across Napeague. But Montauk still relies, in part, upon wells. . . . Also, the deepest, thickest part of Montauk’s freshwater aquifer lies in that area. The town is considering a sewage treatment plant over the very groundwater aquifer the preserve was acquired to protect.”