Residents had a chance to air their concerns in comfortable, informal settings this week in hamlets around Southold Town.
The town board made the rounds, with stops in each hamlet. On Tuesday, residents turned out at the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Free Library for a session, bringing concerns and questions to the board.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell told members of the public that the goal was to present an “informal and non-structured” meeting, with residents pitching questions to shape the discussion.
“My concern is the bays,” said Ellen Paterno, who said she swims all the time. “The water is continually getting worse and worse. Sometimes, it even smells.”
She asked if there were a way to educate the public about the use of pesticides and their impact on runoff into local waterways.
Russell said the issue of discharge into the bays is critical; mapping has been done and corrective action needs to be taken. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, he said, will determine which cases need to be addressed first. “It’s cost prohibitive to do it all at once,” he said.
Nitrogen loading is a big issue, Russell added. “No one should be under illusions. The only way to solve this is with technology and money.”
Suffolk County, he said, is starting to grant some “reluctant approval” to new systems, such as the Nitrex nitrogen removal system. “The county needs to be more embracive of new technology,” he said.
Currently, Russell said, there is no county requirement to update antiquated cesspools. The county has the option to amend its code to mandate those upgrades, he said.
Councilman Bob Ghosio said Glynis Berry of Peconic Green Growth has plans for a pilot cluster sewering program in Orient, but nothing has been approved yet.
The board agreed the main concern lies in older homes, and how to encourage residents to upgrade their existing systems.
Councilman Jim Dinizo said Berry is adept at garnering grant funding but there would still be some cost to the homeowner.
Bill Toedter, president of the North Fork Environmental Council, asked why the town can’t take it upon itself to bring septic systems up to code.
Russell reminded that the town applies to state code. “We’d be asking them to comply with county code that doesn’t exist,” he said.
Paterno suggested the board pressure the county to change their regulations; Russell said the key lies in focusing on alternative treatment systems.
Other concerns raised by the public included the Heritage at Cutchogue project; Russell said litigation has been put to the side so the applicant can move forward. A complete review of environmental impacts will follow, he said.
Residents asked about the state of Town Hall. Russell said a new justice court and highway barn remain bigger priorities than Town Hall.
“Conditions at justice court are the worst, a temporary trailer that’s been there for 30 years,” Dinizio said. He added that those heading to town hall to see the tax receiver share the same lobby and facilities as the justice court, even with a metal detector and ropes. “Justice court should be a separate facility,” he said.
Cutchogue resident Benja Schwartz also asked why a special meeting was held recently with little notice. Russell said the meeting was noticed well within state requirements; he added that the meeting was held to put money in place so that meaningful discussions could commence with the Mattituck Park District over the acquisition of the Pike Street parking lot.
Toedter thanked the board for their work to get the Cross Sound Enhancement Project, which would have brought freight trucks onto North Fork roads, voted down. He suggested Southold follow Riverhead’s lead in considering weight restrictions on town roads. Down the line, any developments on Plum Island could mean an influx of trucks onto North Fork roads, he said.
Also discussed were New Suffolk parking issues, new proposed cell towers, salt marsh dieback, and the deer issue in Southold Town.
Russell said the idea of fencing off a section of land to keep the deer, as a pilot program, is “excellent”, as a means of seeing if would lead to the rebirth of the natural environment.
“It’s going to be costly, deer fencing isn’t cheap. But as a pilot, we can look at the impacts,” he said.
Noise issues were also discussed, with some neighbors complaining that they can’t enjoy their yards due to all the lawn mowing that takes place all day.
Finally, residents asked about how parking would be handled for the upcoming Tall Ships event in Greenport. Russell said organizers were working on a parking plan.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Dinizio said, adding that Greenport village residents would likely leave their cars home and walk to the festivities.