By Jano Tantongco
Suffolk County’s proposed water quality surcharge will not see the light of day this year after the referendum proposal made no progress by the end of the state’s legislative session, which closed on Saturday.
Since the $1-per-1,000-gallons fee was proposed by Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone in April, it drew both critics and supporters.
The funding would have been used to replace the 360,000 cesspools and septic systems connected to 70 percent of Long Island homes with systems that would treat wastewater on-site, according to Suffolk officials.
One supporter of the proposal is Richard Amper, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Pine Barrens Society. On Wednesday, he critiqued the state legislature for failing to act, saying that this essentially deals the public “dirty water.”
“We think government’s top responsibility is protecting the public health and welfare,” he said. “We’re going to need a bunch of different ways to fund this. The public can’t be asked to spend $15,000 a pop to do it themselves.”
Suffolk County Communications Director Scott Martella said Wednesday that the county will “reassess next year.”
In the meantime, he said, the county is preparing initiatives that can pave the way to build support for the initiative, and “advance the overall objective” of keeping Long Island’s waters clean.
“We’re not going to be pushing the surcharge this year. The focus is just about educating people about the host of these programs and talking about the greater mission of improving water quality,” Martella said.
Martella added that the county is in the process of identifying the regions with the highest levels of nitrogen loading to be prioritized for retrofitting. He said a report is set to be release by the end of the year.
On the educational front, Martella also said that the county has hosted educational seminars for existing septic contractors who work in the county on proper installation techniques to mitigate excessive nitrogen. He added that a new licensing and training requirements for contractors would go into effect today.
“Ultimately you need to engender enthusiasm around the general mission of improving water quality,” Martella said. “We have a great number of advocates around that mission and we’re just going to build those numbers.”