Construction workers in muddy jeans and politicians in crisp suits mingled in the dirt as the first homeowner-installed advanced septic system to take advantage of the Suffolk County Septic Improvement Program was put into the ground at the Hobson residence in Flanders.
On Thursday, September 7, Anthony Hobson, an architect for SLR Architecture in Bridgehampton, his wife, Alejandra, and their 16-month-old baby, Amelie, became the proud new owners of a state-of-the-art, environmentally sound septic system—for free. With $11,000 from Suffolk County’s initiative and $15,000 from Southampton Town’s parallel program, funded by a portion of the town’s Community Preservation Fund revenues, Mr. Hobson got his system completely subsidized.
“This house is from 1931,” said Mr. Hobson on Thursday. “I just had a cesspool, and I live next to the bay. I have a 16-month-old child, and I’m a local boy, born and raised in Southampton. So water’s everything to us.
“I needed a new system—it was on the verge of collapsing,” he said of his old cesspool. “I saw an article on 27east.com and just had to do it.”
He added that the installation, which started at 8 a.m., would be complete by the end of the day.
He also shared that the grant comes with a three-year maintenance plan entailing check-ups once every six months.
According to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, so far 530 people have applied for the Suffolk County Septic Improvement Program grants, 140 applications have been completed, and 80 grants have been issued.
“The success of this program is probably going to indicate that we need a more robust and ongoing funding source,” said Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming of Noyac.
“It has been proposed that we look at a fee system,” she added. “I think that the water supply is a good place to start. That has the effect of incentivizing water conservation as well as funding a program like this, so water hogs will be more mindful of their practices, because they have higher fees.”
She also noted that along with Southampton, East Hampton and Shelter Island towns both have CPF programs to further alleviate the cost of the systems. Voters last year approved the use of a portion of CPF revenues each year for water quality improvement.
The program has the support of environmental groups who see the new installations as crucial to reducing nitrogen leaks into groundwater and ultimately, the bays.
“It’s one small step for the homeowner, and one giant step for the protection of water quality on our island,” said Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale.
“The idea here is to have active systems that take out nitrogen,” added State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor. “Nitrogen is enemy number one for the water quality. It contributes to algal blooms and takes oxygen out of the water, too. It’s bad for the habitats, bad for the shellfish.”
Though more extensive funding sources are yet to be established and likely to be needed, at this first groundbreaking, all those gathered felt confident that this was the first step to reclaiming Suffolk County’s water from its current state of crisis.
“Today is the beginning of a safer, cleaner, more sustainable island,” Ms. Esposito said.