Does Suffolk need more sewers?

Where could new sewers be built in Suffolk County? How much would they cost? And, perhaps most importantly, where would the money come from?

Those were among several questions pondered by environmentalists, economic development agencies and elected officials at Suffolk County’s second so-called “sewer summit” at Suffolk Community College last Thursday.

County Executive Steve Levy, who hosted the summit, told a crowd of 120 that sewers improve water quality and boost economic development. “We want to get the word out that sewer is not a dirty word,” Mr. Levy said.

He wants to preserve the “treasured” undeveloped land in Suffolk, Mr. Levy said, but also expand current sewer districts.

“We want to improve our environment and provide for and promote properly-planned development that will help us move into the next century,” he said.

Since the first sewer summit in 2008, Suffolk County has dedicated $5.6 million to study the effects of potential sewers in 22 communities, including Riverside and Flanders, as well as Rocky Point.

One thing the studies are all finding: sewage isn’t cheap, at least the processing of it. A new sewage treatment plant at any of the studied communities would cost about $50 million.

Tom Isles, director of the Suffolk County Department of Planning, presented some ideas to help pay for the projects. For example, the county could use tax revenue from development projects to pay bonds issued to fund infrastructure, he said, or create an infrastructure bank.

The Southwest Sewer District, a pocket of the county with a high number of sewers, was funded through government subsidies which are no longer available.

David Calone, chair of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, recognized that some balk at the cost of building more sewers, but said “failing to protect the quality of our drinking water would be far more costly.”

Mr. Levy emphasized the need for everyone in the county to get on the same page in a collaborative, cooperative effort.

Currently, one-third of Suffolk County is sewered with 184 sewage treatment plants and 23 more in the planning stage.

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