FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
(These are actual questions posed by community members)
1: Why does our community need a sewer system?
Decades of nitrogen pollution from outdated, poorly functioning or broken septic systems and cesspools have contributed significantly to polluting the Forge River and groundwater in the Mastic-Shirley area. Hurricanes, nor’easters, and other significant rain events that have led to flooding, as well as an unusually high water table, have also contributed to the problem.
2: How will the community, property owners, and businesses benefit?
Water quality is a key factor affecting the quality of life of a community. Improving water quality will help make our community a more attractive place to live, raise our children and to live out our golden years. The poor condition of the Forge River and Great South Bay are depriving our community the full benefits of these valuable recreational and economic resources. We can begin to reclaim those benefits and create a better quality of life by greatly reducing the amount of nitrogen pollution that ends up in our groundwater and waterways.
Good water quality helps to support higher property values. Having a reliable, effective wastewater treatment system instead of relying on cesspools and septic systems that are polluting our waterways, will raise the value of all properties in our community. The improvements in water quality that result will create better recreational opportunities, especially for a community like ours that is situated on some of the most attractive water bodies in the region. Enhancing our waterfront opportunities also invites visitors to come to our community, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores. For businesses, it can be the impetus for expansion, investment, and growth.
3: Our community has lots of pressing needs – why are sewers a priority now?
The Mastic-Shirley area is literally at a crossroads. We have a historic opportunity to build an infrastructure project almost entirely with federal funding that will provide both lifestyle and economic improvements. We are truly in a unique position to be able to do what many other communities wish they could do. After many years of studies, planning, and discussions, in which hundreds of citizens participated, a reliable pathway now exists to get this momentous achievement completed. Significant environmental reviews and design work have already taken place.
What is making this project possible is the availability of nearly $168 million in post-Sandy resiliency funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to fully fund the construction of the first two phases of the project which will connect about 2,000 residential and commercial properties. Without this grant funding, the cost of this project would be prohibitive. However, the FEMA funding can only be used for this project and will be lost if this project is not built – so supporting this project is critically important to the future of this community.
4: Will the sewer system improve the Forge River and Great South Bay?
Studies have shown that the Forge River is one of the most polluted waterways in Suffolk County. The project will reduce nitrogen in the Forge River. Combined with sewer projects in three other priority communities along Suffolk County’s south shore, harmful nitrogen pollution in the Great South Bay is projected to be reduced by 25 percent.
More than 70 percent of Suffolk County’s 1.5 million residents rely on cesspools and septic systems that are not designed to actively treat wastewater. The impact of untreated wastewater has contributed to harmful algal blooms and has reduced by one-third the wetlands which form Long Island’s second line of defense against potential storms and natural disasters, leaving coastal communities more vulnerable to storm surge.
During Superstorm Sandy, many on-site septic systems were flooded by the storm surge and rising groundwater, which allowed untreated wastewater to enter groundwater and surface waters, causing public health and water quality hazards. During Superstorm Sandy, the significant losses we experienced could have been mitigated to a certain extent by the more robust wetlands that once protected our coastline from storm surges. By connecting additional parcels to sewers and installing advanced wastewater treatment systems in areas where sewers are not possible, Suffolk County seeks to restore this natural shield.
5: How will the sewer system be paid for?
The construction costs for the project will be funded entirely by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The construction funding is being made available as part of the Suffolk County Coastal Resiliency Initiative to help mitigate the kind of coastal devastation that took place in our area during Superstorm Sandy. FEMA will provide up to $167,780,000 in construction funding for the sewer project. Because this funding can only be used for this project, and will otherwise be lost, community support for the project is vital. In addition to the FEMA funding, New York State is providing low-interest financing and a grant of $2 million, to fund design and engineering costs. This initial funding of the first two phases of a larger four-phase project will help to connect approximately 1,879 residential properties and at least 150 businesses in the Mastic-Shirley area to a collection system that will flow to a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility.
6: Will there be a new tax?
Because construction is being funded entirely with federal grants, residential property owners will not pay anything to construct the project. Properties located within the sewer district will be billed an annual fee to fund design and engineering costs. This charge will be a flat fee. There will be different billing categories and rates for single family homes, multi-family dwellings and commercial buildings. The sewer district will collect the debt service charge from every property owner in the sewer district, regardless of whether their property is connected initially. A separate user fee will be charged to those properties that are connected to the sewer system to pay for the cost of operating and maintaining the sewer system. For residential properties, the user fee is a flat fee. Connected commercial properties will be charged based on water usage. It’s worth noting that many area property owners already spend hundreds of dollars every year to pump out or improve their cesspools and septic systems, and will no longer face such expenses once they are connected to the new sewer system.
7: How much will it cost residential property owners?
The annual cost to the owner of a single-family property is estimated to be $470. The $470 consists of $356 for annual operating and maintenance costs and $114 to pay debt service on the loan used to finance system design and engineering costs. There is no residential connection fee and all costs associated with installing system infrastructure on private residential property are included in the construction costs. As previously stated, 100% of the construction costs will be covered by a FEMA grant of nearly $168 million and other grant funds provided by New York State. Without this grant funding, the cost to residents would be so high that the project would be cost prohibitive. Connected property owners will not be responsible for the electrical cost to operate the unit.
A new separate electrical service and meter will be provided under this project. A separate account in the name of Suffolk County Department of Public Works will be established and the County will be responsible for the electrical cost to operate the unit.
8: How much will it cost commercial property owners?
The connection costs for commercial properties will vary depending on the size and water usage of the business and can start at approximately $20,000.
9: Will costs to users ever increase? What happens if the system needs major repairs or improvements in the future?
County sewer systems typically experience a 3% rate increase per year to pay for increased costs to maintain and operate the system. The proposed equipment is expected to have a useful life of over 20 years and major repairs or improvements are not anticipated.
10: When do we start paying for the sewer project? When hooking up or when the district is established? Are there payment plans?
Once the Sewer District is established, property owners will be responsible to pay the annual debt service charge (See response to Question #7). After a property is connected, that property owner will also be responsible to pay the annual user fee.
11: Who pays for the abandonment of my old septic system or cesspool?
The cost to safely fill in and secure abandoned residential cesspools and residential septic systems will be part of construction costs and will not be the responsibility of the residential property owners. It should be noted that only those residential property owners who agree to be connected and who complete all required paperwork will receive this benefit during the construction of phases one and two.
12: How will the sewer system work?
A sewer system includes the network of pipes and pump stations that collect wastewater generated by residences and businesses and conveys it to a wastewater treatment plant. At the treatment facility, organic matter and nitrogen are removed and the wastewater is disinfected to eliminate pathogens before the treated effluent is discharged back to the environment. The water discharged is required to meet very stringent standards designed to protect both public health and the environment.
The sewer system will consist of a low-pressure sewer system technology for flat terrain, high groundwater areas that have been an established means of disposing of wastewater in the United States for over 50 years. Sewage generated from each home is discharged into a grinder pump station installed for each residential property. The grinder pump is used to convey sewage to a system of sewer lines buried in the streets where the sewage is conveyed to the new AWTF for treatment. The treatment facility will utilize state-of-the-art technology to remove contaminants from wastewater.
13: What will happen on my property?
The first step is for the County’s engineering firm to inspect each residential property. The purpose of the inspection is to perform a preliminary investigation of the public utilities currently serving your property, determine the number and location of septic tanks and/or cesspools on the property, locate the existing home’s building sewer, determine the approximate depth of the existing building sewer line and discuss any special restoration situations.
Once construction of the main sewer system is nearing completion, the County’s contractor will install a grinder pump unit on each residential property, physically make the connection of your home to the grinder pump unit (plumbing and electrical) and then abandon the existing septic tank and cesspool in accordance with the County’s rules and regulations. The abandonment will be limited to pumping out the septic tanks and cesspools and filling them with clean fill material. Upon the completion of this work, your home will be connected to the sewer district.
14: What happens if the low-pressure system design is inadequate or fails?
The low-pressure system and its design are not expected to fail. The low-pressure sewer system technology has been used in the United States for over 50 years. The project’s engineering firm has experience in the design of this type of sewer system, which is widely used and reliable, to ensure that the system is sized appropriately.
15: The pump on my property will run off electricity, so what happens in a power failure? What happens if the pump breaks down?
The grinder pump unit will be connected to the power source for the home that the grinder pump serves. In the event of a power failure, toilets, sinks and some limited use of showers will be operational. Other items in the home will not be operational. Each grinder pump tank is sized to accommodate this type of water usage during a power failure. In the event of a prolonged power failure, the County will mobilize a portable emergency generator that they will use to operate the grinder pump and drain the tank periodically.
In the unlikely event of a pump failure, there is a red alarm light located on the exterior of the control panel that will be mounted to the side of the home. There is also an audible alarm to alert the property owner. At the time that the home is connected to the grinder pump unit, each property owner will be given a phone number that can be called in order to schedule service. The service call and maintenance will be performed by the County at no additional charge to the property owner. The County will also have in place a remote monitoring system that will notify the County of a pump failure.
16: Do I need to increase my amperage in my house to accommodate the pump?
See response to question #7 above.
17: Is the 75-gallon holding tank adequate?
Some homes in our community have large families or multiple tenants. Because the use of water is limited during a power failure, a 75-gallon grinder pump tank is sufficient for homes regardless of the number of occupants. For multi-family homes, a larger tank may be required. This need will be addressed during the design phase of the project.
18: Do I initially pay for and then pay to maintain and repair sewer equipment on my property?
No. The cost of installing the sewer system infrastructure, both in public streets and on private residential property, will be fully covered by the grant provided by FEMA. Residential property owners are not individually responsible for repairing or maintaining equipment. All repairs will be performed by sewer district personnel or contractors hired by the sewer district. All connected property owners will pay an annual user fee to the sewer district, a portion of which is earmarked for operation and maintenance of the system, including infrastructure on residential property. Note that property owners are responsible for the waste pipe which connects their house to the grinder pump unit. Suffolk County Department of Public Works will be responsible for the electrical cost to operate the unit.
19: Will the construction process be disruptive to my street, neighborhood? How will it impact traffic, access to driveways, emergency services?
During construction, there will be a temporary inconvenience with respect to traffic patterns that could include temporary street closures. The contractors will make the necessary arrangements with emergency management (911) in order to notify first responders of construction activities. After the completion of each day’s construction activities, roads will be reopened and will be possible until final road restoration is completed. Driveways should not be disturbed or access interrupted during construction.
20: When will construction begin and how long will it take?
Construction is scheduled to begin in 2021 and is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2025. Specific construction schedules including detailed information regarding when contractors will be working on each street or in each neighborhood will be prepared as construction gets closer.
21: Is there an approval process for this project?
Yes. Creation of a new sewer district to serve the Forge River Watershed must be approved by the Suffolk County Legislature in order for the project to move forward. In addition, County elected officials are committed to holding a public referendum to allow registered voters who reside in the proposed district to decide whether the district should be created in order for the project to move forward.
22: Why is the establishment of a sewer district necessary?
New York State County Law requires that a County must establish a sewer district before undertaking a project to provide sewer service to non-sewered areas.
23: When will the sewer district referendum be and who will be eligible to vote in the referendum? Will businesses have a vote say?
It is expected that a referendum will be scheduled in early 2019. Pursuant to New York State County Law, in order to vote in a sewer district referendum, a person must be a “resident elector”. In other words, they must live within the boundaries of the proposed sewer district and they must be registered to vote in that district. Business owners are not eligible to vote unless they are also a resident elector. Only business owners who reside in the district are eligible to vote. It is anticipated that the sewer district referendum will occur in early 2019.
24: Who decided and how were the boundaries of the sewer district chosen?
The Suffolk County Legislature established the Suffolk County Sewer District/Wastewater Treatment Task Force to work with local community groups to identify critical areas of need based upon the important goals of environmental improvement and economic revitalization. A final determination of district boundaries was made based upon input from the Task Force as well as from the design and engineering consultants.
The area generally extended along the Montauk Highway Business Corridor from just west of the William Floyd Parkway, east to the Forge River, and included most of the densely developed residential area within the two-year groundwater travel time to the Forge River and its tributaries from Sunrise Highway on the north to Poospatuck Creek on the south.
25: Why isn’t the entire Mastic Peninsula, including Mastic Beach, included in the initial construction as there are many areas where there are problems? Will doing this piecemeal just make it more expensive?
The County has completed a Feasibility Study to sewer the entire Mastic-Shirley peninsula in four phases. The current project is limited to Phases 1 & 2 of that study area because of limitations in the amount of federal funding awarded for the project. The County will continue to actively look for additional sources of funding to build Phases 3 & 4 of the project. It is important to note that .those additional areas cannot be added if this project does not move forward using the federal funding that is available now.
26: When will Phases 3 and 4 be built?
There is a general recognition that establishing state-of-the-art wastewater collection and treatment system for the entire Mastic Peninsula is an important objective. All four phases of the County’s overall project share similar conditions: a high water table, inadequate or failed cesspools and septic systems, and vulnerability to storm impacts. While additional funding is being sought to complete Phases 3 and 4, it is important that the County construct Phases 1 and 2 with the grant funding that is available, Planning for Phases 3 and 4 has been ongoing and required environmental impacts studies for Phase 3 are being completed. As a result, it should be possible to quickly move ahead with Phases 3 and 4 once funding is in place.
27: I live one block away from the district boundary and family members are just two blocks away. We all deal with a high water table and I’d assume we are a priority. Why can’t the boundary be changed to include us?
The initial Sewer District boundaries are being established to connect properties located within the two-year groundwater travel time to the Forge River. Properties that have a high probability of discharge of pollutants into the Forge River were a priority for initial phases of the project.
28: I’m not currently in the sewer district boundaries – is it possible I will get sewers in a future phase?
Yes. The County has completed a Feasibility Study to sewer the entire Mastic-Shirley peninsula in four phases. The current project is limited to Phases 1 & 2 of that study area because of limitations in the amount of federal funding awarded for the project. The County will continue to actively look for additional sources of funding to build Phases 3 & 4 of the project. It is important to note that .those additional areas cannot be added if this project does not move forward using the federal funding that is available now.
29: Is this sewer project the same as the Septic Improvement Program (SIP) that provides grants for on-site systems that Suffolk County has also been promoting?
No, the proposed sewer project and the on-site sewage management program are two separate County initiatives.
30: I’m planning to upgrade my current on-site system soon but don’t want to waste my money if the sewers will be built. What guidance do you have for me?
Individual homeowners outside the service area of the current project will need to make decisions based on the specific circumstances affecting their properties. The project timetable calls for construction to begin in 2020 and is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2025. Specific construction schedules including when contractors will be working on each street or in each neighborhood will be prepared as construction gets closer.
31: Will residents who want to relocate their waste lines in order to minimize property disturbance be afforded any financial assistance or interest-free financing?
Such situations will be discussed as part of the engineer’s property inspection (See Question #13). There are currently no plans to provide financial assistance for the relocation of waste lines.
32: I have two separate cesspools on my property serving two areas of the home. How will you run my line so I maintain a fully functioning system?
The inspections performed on each property will determine the number and location of cesspools so that the design can be completed to include multiple cesspools where required. The low-pressure sewer system and grinder pump installed on each residential property will provide the home with the same level of service to the home that is currently being provided. In some cases, this will require the County’s contractor to install multiple gravity sewer lines from the home to the grinder pump unit in order to provide full sewage service to the home.
33: What fraud protections will be in place to protect against fraud?
All procedures necessary to establish the district will be completed in accordance with New York and Suffolk County laws. All contracts and procedures necessary for the completion of the project will be procured and performed in accordance with Federal, State, and Suffolk County law and the requirements of the grant funding received by Suffolk County.
34: Who will be responsible/liable for the implementation, the success or failure of the project?
The Suffolk County Department of Public Works Division of Sanitation and its engineering consultants will be responsible to undertake the project once the sewer district is established.
35: How much is the contractor getting?
Construction contracts cannot be awarded until the sewer district is established. Once the district is established, all contracts will be publicly bid in accordance with State and Suffolk County law, and requirements of the federal grant program.
36: Will penalties be imposed for using lawn fertilizers?
This project is independent of any policies or laws with respect to fertilizers.
37: What are the four proposed projects and how do they lay the groundwork for future extensions?
The Forge River sewer watershed is separated into four phases.
Phases I and II have been identified as critical areas that contribute high nitrogen load to the Forge River and have the potential for significant economic development that will benefit the community. The area generally extends along the Montauk Highway Business Corridor from just west of the William Floyd Parkway, east to the Forge River, and includes most of the densely developed residential area within the two-year groundwater travel time to the Forge River and its tributaries from Sunrise Highway on the north to the Poospatuck Creek on the south.
Phases III and IV include the Mastic Beach area and will connect to the wastewater treatment plant located at Brookhaven Calabro Airport through the infrastructure built as part of the current project.
See response to questions 24, 25 & 26 for further explanations.
38: Is there a warranty for the grinder pump? How much is it going to cost to maintain or repair if something goes wrong?
The cost to operate and maintain the pressure sewer system and the treatment plant, including any repairs to the grinder pump unit, will be included in the annual operation and maintenance costs for the residential property owners. Homeowners are not responsible for repair, maintenance or replacement costs for grinder pumps on their properties. This work will be performed by the County. There is a limited warranty for each individual grinder pump unit.
39: Will saltwater damage the pump machinery? Are there enough extra pumps to replace those damaged?
The system has been designed with protective features to prevent seawater from reaching the grinder pump unit in the event of a storm or flooding. These features are referred to as “flood hardening.” The only way such water could reach the unit is if salt water somehow made its way into the drains inside a home. There would be sufficient spare pumps available for replacement in the event that a grinder pump cannot be repaired and must be replaced.
40: If the power goes out for some time due to storms, can sewage back up into the house? In the event of a power failure toilets, sinks and some limited use of showers will be operational. The County would dispatch vehicles equipped with a power source to pump wastewater from individual properties into the collection system in the event of an extended outage. Unlike a gravity sewer system, the sewage from one property cannot back-up into a neighboring home because the GPU will be provided with dual check valves. In extreme circumstances, it would be possible for wastewater to back up into a home from which it is not being pumped. This is no different than with a gravity sewer or septic system.
41: Will the project fully restore my property as part of the installation, even if the line goes under my driveway and deck?Also, would public places and facilities be restored to conditions that existed prior to any work done by this project?
Yes. The contractors performing the installation of the sewer system will be required to restore disturbed properties to “preconstruction conditions.” The contractors will be required to take preconstruction photographs so that the preconstruction condition is documented.
42: Will the improvement result in an increase in property tax assessment?
The Town of Brookhaven has confirmed that assessments of properties will not change as a result of the connection to the sewer system.
43: Can you fast track it so that phase 4 can begin?
See response to question 27.
44: What happens if the funds for the project run out and the project is incomplete?
The amount of grant funding should be adequate to fund construction of the project. Current cost projections are based on highly detailed, up-to-date construction estimates, with built-in inflation and contingency factors.
45: Could the project be built without the FEMA funding?
As previously stated, 100% of the construction costs will be covered by a FEMA grant of nearly $168 million and other grant funds provided by New York State. Without this grant funding, the cost to residents would be cost prohibitive.
46: What if the facility is unable to support the amount of wastewater?
The proposed advanced wastewater treatment facility has been carefully designed to accommodate sewage flows generated from Phases I and II of the four-phase project area and could be expanded to accommodate further phases.
47: How long after completing the residential property questionnaire form will the surveyors come to the property?
About one week before field technicians visit your property, you will receive a door hanger to notify you of this visit.
48: We are located just North of Phase I, not understanding why we are in Phase III. Can you incorporate northern phase III in with Phase I?
The boundaries of the current project area were established through the approval of a Map, Plan & Report that have been finalized and cannot be modified. The County hopes to pursue the connection of the Phase III area as additional funding becomes available.
49: I live outside Phase I-IV. What can I expect in terms of property tax increase while this project is going on? When can I expect my area to be serviced?
Owners of properties located outside the current project area should not expect any increase in taxes as a result of the current project. The County plans to pursue the connection of additional phases of the project as additional funding becomes available.
50: Process waste from my business is currently self-contained and removed at my cost. Will we be mandated to connect those waste through sewers? If not, will there be a reduction in annual fees because of reduced waste usage?
The proposed sewage facilities are only able to accommodate domestic sewage. Non-domestic wastes or prohibited wastes from a business will need to continue to be collected and disposed of in accordance with other health code requirements. The County is required to verify that these prohibited wastes are not discharged into the public sewer system. The annual fee set for businesses will be determined based on receiving and treating the domestic sewage only.
51: What kind of delays or what could cause a delay in the project?
Factors that typically contribute to unforeseen project delays include severe inclement weather or unanticipated obstacles to complete portions of a project on a timely basis.