Forum on wastewater issues set for Feb. 16 in Orient

Poquatuck Hall in Orient will be the site for a forum on wastewater issues next month.
Poquatuck Hall in Orient will be the site for a forum on wastewater issues next month.
Environmentalists on the East End are beginning to sound the cry that the septic systems under our backyards could prove to be ticking time bombs for our health and the health of the Peconic Bays.
The Orient Association and the East Marion Community Association are throwing their weight into the debate with a forum on wastewater issues Feb. 16 at Poquatuck Hall.

Orient resident Venetia Hands, who was active in the effort two years ago to keep the Suffolk County Water Authority from bringing a pipeline to Orient, is helping to organize the forum for the Orient Association.

“The genesis of this is increasing the awareness of the importance of water as a precious resource these days,” she said. “In Orient in particular, good healthy drinking water is vital, as is taking care of the aquifer there. The more we studied it, the more we realized the single most important thing for us to be taking care of is sewage and water-treatment systems.”

The group has prepared an online survey, which members hope will be filled out by as many North Fork residents as possible, in order to give them a better idea of the state of septic systems here. The survey is available by clicking here.

The survey asks basic questions about when people’s houses were built, what kind of wastewater system it has and whether it was ever cleaned. Houses that were built prior to the mid-1970s likely just have cesspools, while more modern houses have a septic tank that holds the solids while liquids drain from there into a precast concrete ring.

Architect Glynis Berry, who lives in Orient and works in Riverhead, has started a new non-profit organization called Peconic Green Growth, which is helping the group put together the survey.

Peconic Green Growth is looking for communities that would be interested in setting up new, alternative clustered septic systems that have proved effective in reducing nitrogen contamination in environmentally sensitive areas.

Those systems haven’t, however, been cost-effective to date. Ms. Berry’s organization has received several grants that they are hoping to use to help communities switch to better septic systems.

“There are huge issues around design, cost and affordability. The systems must be designed to meet the needs and budgets of the community,” said Ms. Hands. “My hope is that people will say ‘these bays are all of ours, this area is all of ours, this village is beloved by all of us. If it’s going to help all of us, all of us might want to contribute to that.’ ”

“We’re so far away from being there,” she acknowledged. “We really just want to raise the topic, encourage people to fill out the questionnaire and gather information.”

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