Waste Management Hamptons Style

The public vs. private debate is almost as prolific and polarizing as the ongoing nature vs. nurture argument, and East Hampton Town is its latest casualty.
East Hampton Town has owned the scavenger waste plant on Springs-Fireplace Road, which was built using federal, state and local funds to treat sewage from septic systems before releasing it into the ground, since the late 1980s. It is considering privatizing the facility and is considering accepting a bid from Lindenhurst’s East End Processing Corporation to purchase the plant. But many members of the community have taken vastly different stances. In addition to the possibility of having an outside company oversee the plant’s operations, proposals for the future of the site range from upgrading the facility to shutting it down entirely to continuing to run it as a waste transfer station.
In short, the options for the site run the gamut, and the town has yet to render its decision on what will happen.
“I believe it was Mario Cuomo who said ‘It is not a government’s obligation to provide services, but to see that they are provided,’” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson in a phone interview. “The private sector has been seen as a viable partner.”
Wilkinson explained that a private company provides the expertise in running a plant that the Town simply does not have. It is in East Hampton’s best interest to have a private, knowledgeable company to oversee the plant, which is essential to maintaining the town’s waters.
Honestly, that makes sense to me. But others are concerned about the potential environmental impact that continuing to operate the station could cause.
The Town ran the plant until about 10 years ago, when it decided to hire an outside company, Severn Trent, to take over its operations. In the wake of numerous State Department of Environmental Conservation violations, Severn Trent’s contract was not renewed last fall.
The Town has since been looking for a company to oversee the plant, either to lease or purchase, though it has been partially taken over by Hamptons Septic Services since January. Hamptons Septic Services has turned the plant into a waste transfer station, meaning that the sewage is treated off-site.
According to sources, the town was losing money when the plant was run by Severen Trent Services. And in the past, the plant was battling high dumping fees. Many feel that privatizing the plant could make it more competitive with facilities in the area—most notably in Riverhead and in West Babylon—that have cheaper rates. The argument for completely shutting down the plant drew criticism from people who feared that the up-island plants would reach capacity, and East Enders, particularly those in Amagansett and Montauk, would face issues during an emergency.
However, another huge complaint with Severn Trent was the smell coming from the facility, particularly during the summer.
“It will take your appetite away,” said Bill Hall of the One Stop Market, which sits on Springs-Fireplace Road across the street from the facility. “The smell has been a problem for about 20 years.”
Wilkinson maintained that choosing a company that prioritizes dealing with the smell is of extreme importance.
Members of the town, however, are not as keen to accept the proposal.
“If they (the Town) sells it, I don’t have much of a recourse,” said Hall. “I don’t know where I would go to bring up issues with the plant.”
There were also concerns about the environmental impact the company could have on the community. A major issue is that East End Processing Corporation, a private company from up-island, may not care as much about town drinking waters and the town’s environment as the town itself.
“It’s ridiculous to assume that a private company wouldn’t care,” said Wilkinson, maintaining that a company wouldn’t risk their reputation and run a plant poorly simply because they were based outside of the town.
East Hampton has privatized public facilities in the past, most notably the indoor roller rink at the Terry King Ballfield, which is owned by the town but leased by Sportime. Sportime offers indoor roller hockey for adults and youth as well as youth soccer and lacrosse clinics.
“This has been very, very successful as far as providing services for the town,” said Wilkinson.
Also currently in contention is privatizing the tennis courts at the Terry King Recreational Center in Amagansett. East Hampton Town, which currently owns the courts, has received two bids—from Sportime and from Scott Rubensten, who owns East Hampton Indoor Tennis—to repair and operate the four courts at the facility.

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