NYC provides $6.7 million for Shandaken septic systems

Left to right: John Gillespie and Henry Lamont of Lamont Engineering, with attorney Kevin Young. (Photo by Violet Snow)

The $6.7 million endowment New York City is providing for the upgrade and maintenance of septic systems in the hamlet of Shandaken can be expected to last anywhere from 55 to 75 years, engineer Henry Lamont said at the September 9 town board meeting. When the funding runs out, homeowners will again have to pay for their own maintenance.

As part of the ongoing effort to keep the city’s drinking water clean, the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC), a locally run agency funded by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), is providing money for the recently established septic maintenance district in the area to the west of Phoenicia. Engineer John Gillespie said 28 of the hamlet’s 55 septic systems need replacement, and nine owners may have to consider “enhanced” systems due to the small size of their properties.


A standard system consists of a septic tank and a leach field that has to be placed at least 20 feet from a well, according to watershed regulations. For properties not big enough to accommodate that rule, the field may be placed at a remote location off the property, if available, or a biofilter may be installed between the septic tank and the leach field. The biofilter uses either a textile or, more commonly, peat to extract pollutants before sending waste on to the leach field. Town board member Peter DiSclafani asked how much maintenance the biofilters require. 

“At some point, the peat has to be replaced,” Gillespie replied. “The manufacturer anticipates every 15 years. The CWC has put in many of them. The oldest are 20 years old and haven’t had to be cleaned out yet.” The cost of replacing the peat and the septic pump every 15 years is estimated at $540 per year per system. This cost would be covered by the grant — until the invested money runs out. 

Henry Lamont explained that his firm estimated the lifespan of the endowment by anticipating an average rate of interest return of two percent and inflation of costs of 3.33 percent over the life of the project. These rates, of course, may vary. Costs have been estimated to include replacing 28 systems immediately and one system per year in following years. Taking into account the limitations of the lots, 16 systems will be conventional tank-and-field setups, 11 will require the addition of a raised bed, nine will be enhanced, and 19 will involve remote leach fields. The periodic pumping out of tanks will also be covered by the grant. The engineers pointed out that a family’s level of usage varies, and some systems have to be pumped out every three years, while others can go much longer.

As for the enhanced systems, which are efficient but more costly to maintain, Lamont said, “We need to insist the homeowner understands that once we put an enhancement in the watershed, they’ll have to keep it forever. If the endowment runs out of money, the obligation shifts back to the property owner. We need to meet with each of them to explain what might happen.”

Attorney Kevin Young said the district has made an offer to purchase property for four parcels that lack room for a leach field. The town board then went into executive session to discuss the proposed real estate transaction.

No progress on Big Indian cleanup?

The Big Indian clean-up saga continued, with homeowner Luc Roels telling the board he lives across the street from one of the sites the local beautification committee has complained about at the three previous town board meetings. While limited progress had been reported at the August meeting, Roels said the removal of junked cars from the former service station property has come to a standstill. He outlined three years of efforts to relate to the owner in person, eliciting promises but no results. 

Although zoning officer Howie McGowan has served an injunction, with a court date of August 17, the owner obtained a 30-day extension. “One would imagine one would then work day and night and try to solve issue,” said Roels. “It’s not happening. Is this an act of defiance?” Referring to a resolution passed earlier in the night to request that campaign signs not be put out on town roads until after Columbus Day, he quoted the text stating the town “‘recognizes the importance of our natural beauty.’ I think [the cleanup] can be done.” Roels fears he will never be able to sell his house due to the presence of the junked cars next door.

STR Committee to meet

The Shandaken short-term rental (STR) committee, reconstituted since the spring survey of town residents regarding STRs, is scheduled to meet on Monday, September 23, at 7 p.m., at the town hall. The public is invited to attend but not to comment at meetings.

There is one comment

  1. Patzilla

    I find it ironic that the NYC DEP is so concerned about runoff into their water source yet they approved the Belleayre Resort project whereby pesticides from the golf course will be polluting the water constantly.

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