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To protect the Great South Bay, Suffolk County will connect 6,000 homes to sewers

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Courtesy of the office of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone
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Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony in West Babylon for a sewer project.

Suffolk County broke ground on its first major sewer project in 40 years near the Carlls River in Babylon on Friday. The project is expected to connect 6,000 homes to sewers along Long Island’s South Shore.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the project is part of a plan to make the region more resilient to coastal storms.

“On the ninth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, we are taking a huge step forward in our efforts to make Long Island more resistant to climate change,” he said about the project, which is known as the Suffolk County Coastal Resiliency Initiative.

Nitrogen pollution in water can create algal blooms, which zap waterways of oxygen and kill fish. Kevin McDonald, the Long Island policy advisor for The Nature Conservancy, said nitrogen pollution has been detrimental to the water quality in the Great South Bay.

“The bay is a gigantic economic engine for the county,” he said. “It's a place where people's quality of lives is either made better when water quality and habitat are good or it's a place of angst and anxiety.”

“When you have dead fish and harmful algal blooms, and people walking up to the edge of the water, curling their nose and going, ‘This looks terrible, I don't want to go in,’ then it deprives families of an experience that those of us who are a little bit older, had when we were young ourselves,” McDonald continued.

Over 2,100 homes will be connected to the sewer lines in Babylon, and nearly 1,900 homes in Brookhaven will be connected to a new treatment plant being built in Mastic. The Babylon project is expected to take two years, and the Mastic project could take up to four, County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco said.

The project will come at no cost to homeowners.

  • The project received $243 million in aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $66 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the state’s Post-Sandy Resiliency Initiative.
  • The state will fund $30.7 million of the project. 
  • Suffolk County will contribute $42 million of federal coronavirus relief funds, and $24 million from a sewer stabilization reserve fund.

Calarco said that while there will be inconveniences, including dug up roads and transportation delays, the benefits to homeowners, such as a cleaner environment and increased property values, outweigh them.

“It means being able to flush your toilet without worrying about whether or not your system can handle that water flow, it means being able to do multiple loads of laundry, and not worry about how your cesspools will or won't fill up, it means not having to make that yearly call, or for some homeowners twice a year or three times a year to the cesspool company to come and pump out your cesspools,” he said. “At the end of the day, it really will improve your quality of life.”

He said Patchogue has been separately awarded $21 million from the state to begin the process of connecting about 500 homes.

“We will be pursuing additional dollars to get that and that whole project complete whether that money comes from the federal infrastructure package being debated right now in Washington or from American Rescue Plan monies or recovery plan monies, that will be determined next year,” Calarco said.

According to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, about 74% of Suffolk is unsewered, including 362,000 homes and 18,000 businesses.

Rich Guardino, the executive director of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, said commercial districts without sewers make it difficult to establish lively downtowns.

“You just can't build to the density necessary, because the septic system that we would attempt to put in would not be adequate and wouldn't be permitted under the health department regulations,” he said.

He said Patchogue became a model for revitalization with restaurants and shops after a sewer system was installed.

“The key redevelopment was the fact that they actually had capacity in their sewer system down there,” he said. “If they didn't have that they wouldn't have been able to build, they wouldn't have been able to grow and the revitalization of that community has been absolutely phenomenal.”

Leah is a former intern with WSHU Public Radio.