Study: Expanding sewer system would cost $2B

by DENISE M. BONILLA, Newsday
August 1, 2012

Expanding sewers into parts of Babylon and Islip towns will cost more than $2 billion, a study commissioned by Suffolk County has concluded. 

The cost estimate was released Tuesday at a public hearing in North Babylon. The report focuses on six communities north of the Southern State Parkway that are not connected to the Southwest Sewer District: Wyandanch, Wheatley Heights, Deer Park, West Babylon, North Babylon and West Islip. 

The study was conducted by D&B Engineers and Architects, Gannett Fleming Engineers, both of Woodbury, and LiRo Program and Construction Management of Syosset. County officials sought the analysis amid growing concern about the financial and environmental impact of cesspools and septic tanks, which are used by 70 percent of county residents.

Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), one of several elected officials at the meeting, told the more than 100 people who attended that he realized the costs are scary.

"You look at those numbers and you start to think 'My cesspool's looking pretty good,' " he said. But, he stressed, the county will be looking at grants and other financial options.

County officials said the Bergen Point Sewage Treatment Plant in West Babylon can handle the expansion. The county has already approved increasing plant capacity from 30.5 million gallons per day to 40.5 million. The facility now processes an average of 26 million gallons daily.

Extending sewers to all of the areas in the study would add about 14 million gallons per day, officials said. 

Looking primarily at depth to groundwater and development density, the study ranked 29 sub-areas to determine communities most in need of sewers. 

While connecting all areas would cost $2 billion, narrowing it down to the five sub-areas with the greatest need -- in North Babylon and Wyandanch -- would cost $861 million, the study found. 

If those areas are connected to the sewer system and if the county finances it with a 30-year bond, the average resident would pay a one-time connection fee of $9,000 to $12,000 and additional annual taxes of $7,500 to $9,700, according to the study. If approved, sewers for the five sub-areas would be completed in 2021.

As residents criticized the hefty pricetag, as well as the limited areas that are being prioritized, Legis. Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) told the crowd officials would not "impose" sewer expansion on them. "I think we all know the benefits of sewers," he said. "But does it make sense is what we're trying to get to."

Unresolved is whether the sewers would be an expansion of the existing district or be part of a new district. An expansion would require a public referendum, officials said. 

Elaine Gomillion, 46, of Wyandanch, said she would vote for the expansion, but having been unemployed since last year, is unsure if she could afford to hook up. 

"When you're talking about that amount of money, am I going to pay for that or am I going to pay my mortgage?" she said. 

Anthony Macaluso, 54, of Deer Park said he is not convinced enough residents will vote for the sewer expansion. "These are all middle-age and elderly people," he said. "I'm sure many feel that by the time this is completed, they may not be around to see the benefits." 

Officials said the report will be finalized this month and another public meeting will be held in September. The study can be viewed atswsuffolksewers.org and comments may be submitted. 

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