Village imposes six-month moratorium on new sewer hookups

Greenport officials unanimously passed a resolution Thursday night that places a six-month moratorium on new hookups to the village’s nearly 200-year-old sewer system.

The move was prompted by a Dec. 5 sewer pipe leak on the main line between the primary pump station and the sewer treatment plant at the corner of Kaplan Ave. and North St., which required more than 12 hours of emergency repair and resulted in a sewage spill on the edge of some village wetlands.  

Mayor Kevin Stuessi said at the Thursday meeting that village officials were made aware of the leak by a neighbor at about 9:30 a.m. — prompting him to issue an emergency repair order.

“I think it was about 10:30 at night that they were finally able to get it completely sealed up and capped,” the mayor said. “There was a hole that was north of 20-some odd feet deep filling with sewage, even though they turned off the pump station and multiple trucks [came] to remove the raw sewage from the hole.”

Mr. Stuessi said the leak occurred in an area immediately abutting “a very sensitive environmental area with Silver Lake, that eventually drains in to Moores Drain and Moores Woods and out into the Peconic Bay.” He said there was “no damage to the environment, or anywhere else outside of that, as a result of the incident.”

Officials said it’s the second time in two years that this stretch of piping has burst. The sewer system, which dates back to the mid-19th century, consists of 17 miles of sewer pipes of various age and condition and eight pumping station, some of which were identified in a 2019 assessment as being in need of repair or upgrade, according to a Jan. 3 memo to the village board from village administrator Paul Pallas.

Most of the pipes are cast iron, and numerous cracks — which precede leaks — have been identified in recent years, Deputy Mayor Mary Bess Phillips told The Suffolk Times in an interview after the meeting.

Mr. Stuessi said at the meeting that a moratorium on new hookups to the system was necessary.

“I’m looking to make certain that we as a board can represent the best interests of our community and the natural environment to make some smart decisions. And I feel at this point, we don’t have nearly enough information to make those determinations. So the smartest and safest thing to do in the moment, is to say, ‘hey, let’s hit pause for a brief moment, reevaluate where things stand, look at the system and then make some determinations on what needs to be done.’”

The mayor said the village was “fortunate that this occurred in the coldest part of a quiet winter and not the summertime — it might have been a very different situation.”

During a discussion of the issue at the meeting, Village Trustee Patrick Brennan questioned whether a moratorium on new hookups was necessary.

“I appreciate that the mayor [and] the administrator are trying to get on top of this quickly. And I’m all for having the engineers assessment. I am concerned that our actions and the proposed resolution are not necessarily linked to the problem that we’re seeing,” Mr. Brennan said. “It strikes me that excess load in the system could be related to a failure but my sense is that the piping is obsolete. I’m not clear how temporarily prohibiting hookups is connected to the kind of failure we’re looking at … I don’t see that connection between the two.”

Mr. Stuessi responded that “the issue is: if we have another break, any increased usage of the system could mean further sewage coming out into the environment. So the goal is not to have any increased usage in the system until such time as [the system has] been completely studied. And then we have answers and a plan for what we’re going to do to get it fixed.”

Mr. Brennan asked Mr. Pallas whether he thought “the failures that we’re seeing in this pipe are related to obsolescence or load?”

“Primarily age,” Mr. Pallas responded. “The goal is really to mitigate the environmental aspect of this, of a potential break. To minimize, I should say, not mitigate. To minimize the impact … that’s the goal.”

Later in the meeting, Mr. Brennan asked whether the assessment of the system is expected to take the full six months.

“The goal is to get the assessment done as quickly as possible,” the mayor replied. “It’s really about a deeper dive … to make some determinations on how we prioritize what we need to do … and then utilize the assessment in order to help us with funding to get it done.”

Towards the end of the meeting, Trustee Julia Robins concluded that the plan to assess and repair the sewer system— which does not yet have a price tag attached to it — was the right move.

“This isn’t just the village,” she said. “This is a problem that is happening all over the country — a lot of places, a lot of cities have old infrastructure on their streets … and all of them eventually have to deal with it. So I think that this is a very good approach for us: to bite the bullet and go after it, and use the engineers to tell us what we need to do, get a proper assessment of it, and then make it right. I think this is the right way to go.”

 Ms. Phillips said at the meeting that she didn’t expect the moratorium to impact a pair of imminent applications to build or expand two hotels in the village, noting that those applications were still in the “pre-submission” stage.

Erik Warner, a developer involved in one of the hotel projects said in an interview that he supports the actions taken by village officials.

“The general safety of Greenport and its systems is integral to a healthy future for this amazing place we all love,” he said.