Over the past century, Long Island has transformed from nation first suburb in one of his most densely populated as New York juts east on the strip of sand and glacial rock that already contains its two The most populated boroughs. But the beaches, clams and swamps, filled with trout streams who have made a destination out of Suffolk County, stretching from the center of the island to Montauk, now risk – to put it in local parlance – going to be pissed off.
The aging septic tanks that the toilets and showers of most single-family homes in the area drain into release huge amounts of nitrogen into waterways, causing blooms of blue-green algae — so toxic. that they kill elephants – To twice the frequency from any other county in the state. The fish are die by the thousands every year and wash up on the beaches. Already threatened by salt water from rising seas, the underground freshwater aquifer that provides Long Island’s drinking water is contaminated with high nitrogen levels.
The problem is that new “advanced” septic tanks that filter nitrogen typically cost at least twice as much as traditional models – a hard investment for homeowners to pay part of the cost. highest property taxes And housing costs in the country.
So Suffolk County went through a months-long process to get state approval to hold a referendum on whether to raise money to come up with a solution: a county-administered fund that would subsidize advanced septic systems. and overhaul sewage systems in cities that have them. After receiving Albany’s Blessing in May, the county planned to ask voters in November to decide on a sales tax hike of about 12 cents per $100. This would generate $56 million in the first year and allow the county to seek matching funds from state and federal governments, which could bring the total to more than $1 billion.
In a sharp turn earlier this month, the Republican majority in the Suffolk County Legislature withdrew the measure from the November ballot – a move critics described as a cynical ploy to suppress the number of Democratic voters who turned out. returned to the polls in this hollow year. election.
The GOP, which controls 11 of the 18 seats in the Legislative Assembly, insisted its opposition to putting the measure on the ballot stemmed from disagreement over how the money would be spent.
Only 25% of the fund would be reserved for sewers. This would include consolidating Suffolk’s dozen or so separate systems into a single county-wide district and expanding infrastructure in areas of urbanization where warming-fueled changes in rainfall patterns are already overwhelming the gutters and drains. The remaining 75% would subsidize up to 400,000 homeowners installing advanced septic systems, bringing the cost of the most expensive cesspool to around the price of a traditional model. Republicans have said more of the money should go down the drain.
It’s just an excuse to block a referendum that the right says would encourage more Democrats to vote in local elections where low turnout is expected to favor incumbent GOP lawmakers, said Keith Davies, an agent Suffolk County Democrat.
“Republicans don’t want this referendum on the ballot because they know that when people who care about the environment come out to vote, they vote for Democrats,” Davies said by phone Tuesday.
The Conservative Party, a small statewide party that played the role of kingmaker in disputed Republican elections in Suffolk, has been pushing to overturn a referendum on the ballot this year, according press day.
“The Conservative Party doesn’t want an environmental referendum on the ballot because they think it will work against Republicans re-electing in marginal districts,” an unnamed political insider told the Long Island newspaper.
The Suffolk County branch of the Conservative Party did not respond to emailed questions from HuffPost. A Suffolk County GOP spokesperson agreed to forward an interview request to party chairman Jesse Garcia on Thursday, but the call was not returned Friday afternoon.
This is a dubious calculation. In last year’s election, Republican Lee Zeldin handily won the New York gubernatorial race in his home county with more than 58 percent of the vote, even as a referendum in A statewide $4 billion environmental bond bill passed with nearly 64 percent approval. “This would seem to disprove the theory that environmental initiatives inspire party line voting,” wrote Newsday opinion columnist Michael Dobie.
Still, all but one of the 18 Legislature seats are up for grabs this year, including three held by new Republican lawmakers Dominick Thorne, Manuel Esteban and Stephanie Bontempi, all of whom ousted Democrats in 2021. And three Democratic seats are up for grabs. up for grabs as Democrats Al Krupski and Bridget Fleming drop out of the re-election race and Sarah Anker, whose narrow victory two years ago came on a recount, faces term limits.
Suffolk Republicans could still put the referendum on the ballot by invoking a special legal procedure in the upcoming legislative session on July 25. If they don’t, the county will have to start the process over in the next state legislative year. By then, Suffolk may already have lost some of the potential matching funds it might be entitled to as federal agencies begin doling out money from President Joe Biden’s historic infrastructure laws.
“These are all grants. They’re not going to sit around for us forever,’ said Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief, a pediatrician and Democratic school board official in Huntington, who is running against Bontempi, the Republican incumbent, to represent the North Shore city for more. of 200,000 people in the county legislature.
“If they don’t go ahead with this referendum, we will have to start another legislative year. The state should approve another referendum,” she said. “These sums are in no way guaranteed.”
In a suburban area infamous segregation according to race and income, workers will pay the highest price for inaction, said Ryan Stanton, executive director of the AFL-CIO affiliate Long Island Federation of Labor. His union stands to benefit from construction jobs that the new sales tax would help fund if the referendum passes. But he added that these same workers are also the ones who have to deal with the consequences of unmet infrastructure needs.
“Rich people will be fine,” Stanton said.
“They are not the ones who restore, rehabilitate and repair sewage treatment plants when they are submerged by floods. They are not the ones fixing the road when we get 9 inches of rain in one evening, and all of a sudden there is complete destruction on national and local roads,” he added. “It’s the workers who go out and fix our communities.”