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Suffolk County Sewer Agency

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James in January. Photo by David Luces

While plans are not set in stone, Gyrodyne in St. James now has some guidance regarding its proposed sewage treatment plant after a recent meeting of the Suffolk County Sewer Agency.

During a June 22 Zoom meeting, the agency members unanimously granted Gyrodyne what is known as conceptual certification for the plant, explaining that certification gives the applicant guidance regarding the type of wastewater disposal methods but is not an official approval.

Currently, the Town of Smithtown is conducting an environmental review of Gyrodyne’s proposal to subdivide the 75-acre-property to build a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, two assisted living centers, two medical office parks and a 7-acre sewage treatment plant.

If approved, the Gyrodyne Sewer Treatment Plant, which can handle 100,000 gallons per day of wastewater, could possibly be connected to new sewer lines in St. James.

Before the June 22 meeting, the county agency received letters opposing the approval of the treatment plant from state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Setauket Harbor Task Force co-founder and trustee George Hoffman, environmentalist Carl Safina, chair of the Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition/United Communities Against Gyrodyne, Cindy Smith, and others asking that any kind of approval not be granted.

Englebright wrote in his June 19 letter that even conceptualized certification would violate the intent and spirit of the State Environmental Quality Review Act. He also listed a sewage treatment plant would have a significant impact on Stony Brook Harbor, which is only a mile and a half from the proposed STP. The concern also was expressed by other writers.

Englebright said in his letter that the applicant only included the onsite wastewater needs when it came to the certification.

“Yet the applicant’s own SEQRA filing and numerous news reports indicate plans to tie in the St. James Business District, which is currently installing sewer pipes on Lake Avenue which would nearly double the amount of wastewater discharged to groundwater to 170,000 [gallons per day],” Englebright wrote.

During the Zoom meeting, Hoffman said if someone was looking for the worst spot to put a STP, the Gyrodyne property would be it. Smith said that the entire area should be studied, including watersheds all along Route 25A.

Safina was also on hand for the Zoom meeting.

“The Gyrodyne plan appears to be an attempt to simply pull a fast one on all the residents in and around the Stony Brook Harbor watershed,” he said.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) added his comments during the Zoom meeting. While he said, “I wish this property was preserved forever,” he added that the owner could do whatever it wanted with it.

“I’d rather have open space but I’m a realist,” he said.

Mark Wagner from Cameron Engineering attended the meeting to represent Gyrodyne. He said the treatment plant would actually decrease the nitrogen leaving the site and going into the watershed.

Hauppauge-based attorney Tim Shea addressed concerns voiced about Gyrodyne selling off land parcels in the future. He said while the company anticipated selling off such parcels, buyers would have to enter a property owners association. Members of the association would be required to maintain the STP.

Before Gyrodyne can move forward with constructing the STP, the Town of Smithtown must complete the SEQRA review and the county sewage agency must grant final approval.

Local citizens are concerned that a proposed sewage plant on the Gyrodyne property in St. James will negatively affect local waterways. Photo by Chrissy Swain

By Warren Strugatch

We Long Islanders are a coastal people. Waterfronts provide our communities with beauty and sense of place; offer abundant recreation opportunities and make dining out delightful. Waterways teach our children about ecology and nature and account for billions of dollars in tourism revenue for businesses. The so-called “conditional approval” vote of a sewer treatment plant by the Suffolk County Sewer Agency on Gyrodyne property next Monday (June 22) threatens to destroy the balance between quality of life and economic opportunity that characterizes life on the North Shore.

Gyrodyne’s proposed 7-acre sewage treatment plant is the lynchpin of a humungous, much-debated development plan that, if it goes forward, will forever change life along Route 25A from Smithtown through Brookhaven towns. Gyrodyne’s planned tenants — a 125,000 square feet medical office complex, a 250-room assisted living center and a 150-room hotel — will of course generate jobs, bring traffic, create growth and — inevitably — produce waste. Gyrodyne, which has seen similar proposals go down in defeat for decades, this time promised to run a pipeline to nearby Lake Avenue. The offer made Gyrodyne a hero on Lake Avenue and made the company friends in local positions of power. Suddenly, their long-rejected proposal seems headed for success.

Two factors make the big sewer debate particularly contentious:

Toxic Effluent. Tenants will produce high quantities of toxic effluent, laden with radioactive waste, pharmaceutical byproducts, nitrogen and biohazards. As environmental experts testified at town hearings in January, when these components enter the harbor they increase algae bloom, turn water green, kill fish, and ultimately kill the aquatic ecosystem, rendering the waterways unfit for fishing, swimming and boating.

Gravity. Effluent will flow directly downhill from the plant and into Stony Brook Harbor, less than 8,000 feet downhill. Environmental protocols or advanced filtration requirements are not mentioned in the plant’s specs. Meaning: Pollution of the harbor is inevitable.

Inevitably, jurisdictional questions arose. Authority over the Gyrodyne proposal rests with the Town of Smithtown, which conducted hearings in January. More than 100 people spoke, including noted environmentalists, scholars of marine sciences, and local officials known for their environmental commitments. Homeowners and business owners also spoke, testifying to the likely impact the development could have on their businesses, home equity and quality of life. Most of their testimony was negative.

Town of Smithtown is still reviewing their testimonies, in accordance with New York State’s SEQRA law, enacted to ensure environmental protections are present in local permitting. The Suffolk County Sewer Agency, by choosing to interrupt the town’s process, defeats the spirit of the state’s law. The agency’s rush to offer “conditional approval” is illogical and unseemly, blurring jurisdictional responsibility and raising serious questions as to why they are calling this vote while the actual permitting agency continues to deliberate.

I don’t believe a plan that’s so poorly conceived and been dragged through a jurisdictional back door is going to work over the long haul. A sewage plant that despoils life in its shadow is ultimately harmful, not helpful, to economic growth. Suffolk County’s sewer functionaries should call off their vote, which was never a good idea, and let Smithtown’s officials do what they were installed to do. Gyrodyne, try again. Next time keep in mind that your neighbors love their water and their waterways and demand that their local officials balance environmental protection with economic growth.

Warren Strugatch is president of Select Long Island, an economic development news publisher.

Civic groups protested in front of the Gyrodyne property March 2. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Suffolk County Sewer Agency will meet June 22 to discuss granting provisional approval of plans to construct a Sewage Treatment Plant on the Gyrodyne property, Route 25A in St. James. The STP would be in the watershed of Stony Brook Harbor, a major source of the North Shore’s clean water supply. Based on testimony from independent environmentalists and water quality experts, we believe building this STP presents serious health, safety and environmental concerns affecting residents of the towns of Smithtown, Brookhaven and across the North Shore of Long Island. We caution the Sewer Agency not to act hastily without full review of environmental and health impact studies.

Six Reasons the Gyrodyne Sewage Treatment Plant Should Not be Built in its Proposed Location

1. Biohazard and medical waste usage requirements. Medical and health care facilities — two primary tenants of the proposed Gyrodyne redevelopment — pose special sewage-treatment needs, including advanced filtration systems to safely process radioactive and biohazardous medical waste products. However, toxicity and other special needs have not been addressed in the approval process. In fact, a 2012 study by the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences cited the unexpectedly high level of radioactive iodine in Stony Brook Harbor traced to effluent from Stony Brook Hospital.

2. Noncompliance with government laws and regulations. Under New York State’s Environmental Quality Review Act, the conditional approval being considered by the SC Sewer Agency is premature and illegal. As a subordinate agency in the SEQRA process, Suffolk County can only provide approvals after SEQRA is complete and accepted by the permitting authority (in this case, the Town of Smithtown). Smithtown has not completed the process.

3. Instant overcapacity. The proposed STP is slated to accept 100,000 gallons per day for treatment. Gyrodyne officials have stated their intention of allowing Lake Avenue (St. James) business district to hook up to the STP adding another 70,000+ gallons per day. The Lake Avenue sewage volume would immediately put the plant above overcapacity.

4. Location. Sited in a Rapid Groundwater Transport area less than 8,000 feet upstream from Stony Brook Harbor, the proposed plant will discharge thousands of gallons of effluent daily into grounds abutting the harbor — and ultimately seep into the harbor itself, killing off the ecosystem.

5. Waterway vulnerability. Stony Brook Harbor is a relatively narrow waterway with meager flush capacity taking up to 12 days for full water exchange with Long Island Sound. In addition, due to the unique configuration of Smithtown Bay, waste products will remain for exceptionally long periods in the harbor until finally removed by the tidal exchange.

6. Nitrogen exposure. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has named nitrogen “Public Enemy #1,” calling it Suffolk County’s largest cause of water quality degradation. Nitrogen is associated with marine hypoxia and habitat destruction leading to excessive algae blooms and “green water syndrome.” As nitrogen cannot be fully filtered from effluent flow, permitting construction of this STP on Gyrodyne property would dramatically undermine the county’s $4 billion campaign to reduce nitrogen exposure

We urge the Suffolk County Sewer Agency to wait until the New York State’s Environmental Quality Review Act is complete or, better yet, recommend a more appropriate location for what is quickly becoming a regional sewer treatment plant on environmentally sensitive lands.

George Hoffman, Co-founder, Setauket Harbor Task Force

Executive Board, Three Village Civic Association

Cindy Smith, Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition