Judging by the number of cameras and photographers in Anthony Hobson’s backyard Thursday afternoon, you might think there were Hollywood celebrities living there.
But in actuality, what as happening is that Mr. Hobson’s aging cesspool was being dug up and replaced with a much better one, and county officials were celebrating.
Mr. Hobson, who lives on Flanders Road in Flanders, is the first homeowner to begin installation of a new advanced wastewater treatment system under Suffolk County’s Septic Improvement Program, which gives grants of up to $11,000 to help pay the cost of new systems, which reduces the amount of nitrogen that goes into groundwater.
In Mr. Hobson’s case, he got a $11,000 grant from the county, as well as a $15,000 grant from Southampton Town’s Community Preservation Funds, which are funded by a 2 percent real estate transfer tax.
Voters last year overwhelming approved an amendment to the CPF which allows up to 20 percent of the funding to be spent on water quality improvement programs such as this.
For Mr. Hobson, the entire $26,000 cost of the installation is taken care of, as is three years of bi-annual maintenance of the system. A normal cesspool would cost about $6,000 to install, officials said.
Suffolk County is offering a total of $10 million per year to homeowners to upgrade antiquated systems.
“At the end of the day, what this is represents the beginning to the solution to the water quality crisis in our region,” County Executive Steve Bellone said. “This a problem that has built up over years, it will not be solved overnight.”
Mr. Hobson, who works as an architect in Bridgehampton, said he was reading about the new wastewater systems coming on the market last March and decided he needed to get one.
“My house was built in 1931,” he said. “I am in need of a new system.”
He called Joe Densieski of Riverhead, who owns Waste Water Works, a company that installs such systems, and Mr. Densieski told him to wait, because they county may be starting a grant program to offset the cost of such systems.
“The applications become available on July 3 and I applied that morning,” Mr. Hobson said. “On July 11, I was approved.”
Two years early, his regular cesspool guy from South Fork Cesspool told him is cesspool might only have a year left before it collapses. Roots and dirt have infiltrated the cesspool, he said.
Mr. Hobson wasn’t necessarily chosen before everyone, he was just the first to get the installation started.
Officials say 530 people applied for the grants, 140 complete applications were sent and 80 grants were issued to homeowners in the county.
Priority is given to people in areas with high water tables or with systems that have already failed.
Officials say there are more than 360,000 antiquated cesspools in Suffolk County and the cost to replace them all is more than $8 billion.
But Mr. Bellone said the county will provide grants to hundreds of homeowners to get new advanced systems, and eventually, that number will be in the thousands.
“Most people just forget about their old cesspools, which is a bad thing,”said Mr. Hobson, who lives across from Reeves Bay. “With some of the systems, the solids don’t break down and then it just rushes out into the leaching field, which leaches into our groundwater, and since we’ve had all these algae blooms and fish kills, hopefully this will help mitigate that.”
Photo: Anthony Hobson of Flanders, center, is the first person to install an upgraded septic system under a new county program. (Credit: Tim Gannon)