The Suffolk Legislature this week adopted a pair of bills intended to limit nitrogen pollution originating from properties the County auctions off. Sponsored by Legislator Kara Hahn, the companion bills will require the County to identify all properties taken for tax default that are served by sewers, and for those that are not, to include a restrictive covenant requiring purchasers to install an Innovative and Alternative On-site Wastewater Treatment System (I/A OWTS) within 15 months of the auction sale or, if vacant, upon development of the property. The changes will apply to properties auctioned by the County beginning in 2020.
These legislative approvals come just weeks after the release of a long-awaited Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan that outlines a County-wide blueprint for the transition away from cesspools and septic systems that have been directly linked to local nitrogen pollution and impaired water quality.
“Water quality across Suffolk County has been in steady decline as a result of the antiquated and ineffective wastewater disposal methods being used on more than 70% of our developed parcels,” said Legislator Hahn. “I believe that once we take ownership of the property we have a unique opportunity to turn these parcels over to a cleaner method of sewage treatment. It is our obligation to do so as we are asking Suffolk County residents to do the same.”
The bills now go to County Executive Steve Bellone for his signature.
Currently, Suffolk County has possession of more than 2,000 properties whose titles have been acquired through tax default. Each year, approximately 250 additional parcels are foreclosed on by the County for the non-payment of property taxes, with an average of 150 being offered for sale through an annual auction held in October.
“Suffolk County has played a leading role in addressing the serious water quality problems posed by excess nitrogen” said John Turner, a Conservation Policy Advocate with the Seatuck Environmental Association. “This foresighted legislation of Legislator Hahn is another meaningful, indeed critical step in combatting nitrogen pollution, as it will result in the installation of hundreds of nitrogen reducing systems in homes throughout Suffolk County,” Turner added.
“For the sustainability of our County’s water resources we need to change the way in which we deal with our County’s wastewater. With the adoption of this policy, I am proud to announce that we have taken the first step in that process and a small step toward improved water quality,” Legislator Hahn concluded.