Articles by

Joseph Fischetti

02/13/14 5:00am

We can agree that nitrates in our surface water are a problem and may be the cause of the brown tide and red tide in the bay. Politicians and environmental groups have proposed that the removal of nitrates from our sanitary systems will mitigate this problem, and are forming a Wastewater Commission, comprising appointed political members to force the removal of all existing sanitary systems within 1,000 feet of the surface waters.

That may sound simple, but on close analysis it is problematic. The removal of existing sanitary systems, especially for older homes, requires excavating and removing nearby trees, and possibly destroying driveways, patios or lawns. After the installation of the new, experimental system, you still will face the task of replanting trees, reseeding lawns and the possible reconstruction of patios and driveways. There would be about 80,000 homes affected, whose owners would need to spend up to $20,000 per home to comply with these new laws. That is a cost of $1.6 billion.

Most of those homes are on the East End’s twin forks.

The problem with this mandate is that the removal of nitrates from individual sanitary systems is a very complex scientific and engineering problem and, at the present time, there is no proven way to remove nitrates from individual sanitary systems. There are some experimental systems, but they have not demonstrated effectiveness over the long term. You do not want to spend that kind of money and destroy all those yards without a proven, long-term solution.

What is needed is a committee of scientists and engineers to resolve the technical and engineering problems first before a law is put into effect.

Solve the technical problems first, then form a commission to implement the effective solution.

Joseph Fischetti, Southold

Mr. Fischetti runs a civil and structural engineering practice in Southold.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Kimogener Point on the Bay off New Suffolk Avenue.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Kimogener Point on the Bay off New Suffolk Avenue.

01/12/14 10:00am

Environmental groups on the East End have recently been responsible for a concerted effort to push municipalities on the upgrading of existing sanitary systems. One recent letter to The Suffolk Times included some phrases that have been used lately by people regarding pollution in our creeks, such as “under-performing septic systems” and “upgrading our sanitary systems.”

I have lived in Southold since 1974 and I am as concerned about the quality of our surface waters as the environmental groups. That letter asks the reader to “push the Town Board into action,” but just what action is it asking the Town Board to take with our sanitary systems?

The majority of the sanitary systems on the North Fork are on-site subsurface wastewater disposal. These typical home systems require a one-time installation expense, as well as periodic pumping. These subsurface systems, even when compliant with Suffolk County requirements, do not remove nitrates from the effluent.

We also have one sewage treatment plant in town, in Greenport, that services the specific area of Greenport Village.

I do not know the definition of “under-performing,” but if all on-site home sanitary systems are to be upgraded, we must assume that they will be upgraded to current Suffolk County Health Department standards. As an engineer, I am intimately knowledgeable of the steps required for a sanitary system upgrade and the costs involved.

The following are only some of what the process involves.

• Surveys to locate all details of the property and system.

• Test boring to evaluate soil conditions and depth to groundwater.

• Engineering inspection and design fees.

• Construction to remove and replace existing sanitary system.

• Landscaping costs for bringing a property back to its original condition.

The cost to the homeowner for upgrading a substandard, “underperforming” sanitary system for a 3- to 4-bedroom home would be in the range of $10,000 to $18,000. That does not include a concrete retaining wall, if required by grading.

Even if all homeowners close to surface waters made this sanitary upgrade, there is no proof that this would solve any surface water problems. Existing sub-surface sanitary systems that are compliant with Suffolk County Health Department requirements do not remove nitrates. They may become more efficient in removing other contaminants but any upgrade will not remove nitrates.

Another option being considered is small-package sewage treatment plants used in communities adjacent to surface waters. These plants would be denitrification plants. Let’s look at the costs for these small cluster sanitary systems.

I live in the older community of Founder’s Estates, which we can use as an example. This is a community of about 150 quarter- and half-acre lots adjacent to Town Creek. If we use the standard of 300 gallons per day for a sanitary flow we get 45,000 gallons per day needed for the size of the sewage treatment plant. If we could find a place to put the package sewage treatment, construction costs for the plant would be $8.25 million. The cost for each homeowner in Founder’s Estates would be $55,000. The annual operating cost for homeowners would be about $1,600, which would be added to each homeowner’s tax bill every year.

There are experimental package plants that remove nitrogen and are about 1/3 less costly to build; however, these experimental sanitary systems have not been approved by any municipality at the present time. There is a very good report regarding sanitary system costs — “Understanding the Cost Factors of Wastewater Treatment and Disposal” — that was prepared this year by the Cape Cod Commission in Massachusetts. Cape Cod is very much like the East End of Long Island in its topography and soil conditions. The costs noted in that report are in line with what I have noted here. There may be solutions to the problems of surface water pollution. Some technology is not here yet and we may need to wait for that to come. It is important that the financial burden to the citizens of the town is considered when evaluating requirements to upgrade existing sanitary systems.

Joseph Fischetti is a licensed professional engineer of 40 years and is board certified in structural engineering. He runs a private practice in Southold providing civil and structural engineering.