Steve Bellone

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Leading The Way on Water Quality

Just over three years ago, I declared nitrogen Public Enemy Number One. Nitrogen is the single largest cause of degraded water quality. In Suffolk County, water — our oceans, bays and harbors — are essential to both the local economy and our way of life.

The increasing frequency of beach closures, restrictions on harvesting of shellfish, harmful algae blooms and fish kills has raised awareness of the problem. Scientists have made clear that the primary source of nitrogen pollution to our surface waters are outdated cesspools and septic systems, which are not designed to remove nitrogen from wastewater.

Over the past several years Suffolk and its partners in the environmental and business communities have made significant progress in the effort to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution. An important part of these efforts has been establishing a foundation to replace outdated cesspools and septic systems with new state-of-the-art Innovative
and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (I/A OWTS). Just as important are the county’s efforts to reduce the cost of the new systems for homeowners.

To make these new systems affordable for homeowners, Suffolk established the very first program in New York State that provides financial incentives for replacement of cesspools and septic systems with new IA technologies. A new IA system would cost most homeowners between $16,000 and $20,000, an amount that should be reduced over time as more systems are installed. Under the program, homeowners who decide to replace their cesspool or septic system with the new technologies are eligible for
grants of up to $11,000 and may also qualify to finance the remaining cost of the systems over 15 years at a low 3 percent fixed interest rate.

A fund approved by county voters in 2014 provides $2 million a year for the program through 2021, enough to fund 200 grants of $10,000 each year. Since the county began accepting applications last July, 1,045 homeowners have registered for the program, 286 residents have completed applications and 208 residents have been awarded grants.

Suffolk is recognized statewide as being at the cutting edge of efforts to address long-standing concerns about nitrogen pollution from cesspools and septic systems. Counties across the state are poised to follow Suffolk’s lead.

As I have said many times, the water quality crisis we face was created over decades and cannot be solved in one year, or even five. But we in Suffolk are committed to staying the course and working hard to keep the momentum going forward. We are making progress in the battle to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution each and every year. The residents of Suffolk and future generations deserve nothing less.

Reversing The Brain Drain

A rendering of what Wyandanch Rising could look like someday, with plenty of affordable housing options within walking distance of the LIRR. (courtesy BHC Architects)

Long Island is in the midst of historic change. For years, as other regions invested in areas like quality, affordable rental housing, mixed-use development, and public transit, LI was content with the status quo.

We sat silent as we watched droves of young people — educated in our outstanding public schools at significant expense — leave home and help create economic growth in other regions of our country.

The Regional Plan Association recently issued a report that called for a new approach to suburban growth, one that centers on transit-oriented development. It calls for better transit, more inclusive communities, more housing in downtowns — things that make our region more competitive for the young, high-knowledge, high-skill workers we need to grow our economy.

My administration has championed this approach for years through Suffolk County’s Connect Long Island Plan. The plan champions innovation, collaboration, and smart- growth policies to make us a more attractive place to work, live, and raise a family.

Today, a new suburbia is on the horizon, and Suffolk County is leading the way.

In Wyandanch, we are close to completing the first phase of development for the $600 million project near the Long Island Rail Road station. Governing magazine recently profiled the project as a national model for suburban revitalization.

Last November, we broke ground on the first phase of the $650 million Ronkonkoma Hub mixed-use project. When this project is fully built out, it will deliver a true walkable downtown and create 18,000 jobs. And this is all happening right as the LIRR Double Track Project nears completion.

Recently, I joined Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman to break ground on a $30 million affordable housing project for middle-class families that is only 300 feet from the Speonk LIRR station.

These critical projects for our region are supported by the investment in transportation infrastructure by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Double Track and LIRR Expansion Project along the mainline, combined with East Side Access, will be game changers.

These projects collectively will significantly reduce commuting times to the city for thousands of Long Islanders. They also open up the Island for real reverse commuting that will make our region more attractive for businesses to locate here because they can now access the talent they need from the broader region. It will also open up the possibility for real intra-island commuting for the first time.

Our ambitious regional transportation and development plan, Connect Long Island, will spur economic growth while creating new north-south connections from one train line to another. And as the first suburban county in the state outside of New York City to embrace ride sharing, Suffolk residents are already enjoying additional transit options while providing the last mile connection to our train stations.

These are the types of projects that will reverse the brain drain and bring people back to LI. This is about protecting the suburban communities that we love by adapting to the transformative change happening in our world. As a parent of three young kids, I believe that this is about building a better future on LI for all our families.

Steve Bellone is the Suffolk County Executive.